The arrival of September and the shortening of long summer days means that it is that time of year again: back-to-school season. In Downtown Brooklyn, that translates to 57,000 college students descending upon the area to attend one of the 11 institutions that call the neighborhood home. 57,000. That’s more college students than in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
However, while many in the business community have long acknowledged Downtown Brooklyn to be New York City’s college town, we haven’t done a great job of engaging with these students – and with their collective $1.2 billion in spending power – according to statistics from re:fuel’s 11th Annual College Explorer survey, which sets individual spending power at approximately $21,000 per student. We also haven’t done very well at encouraging these colleges, universities, and yeshivas to work together on shared issues.
That’s why the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership (DBP) has made it a key priority this year to raise the area’s profile as a College Town and stress the tremendous assets that local educational institutions are when promoting the area for commercial attraction.
To this end, this past August, we had a very productive meeting with the leadership of the colleges and universities in Downtown Brooklyn, where they articulated an agenda that they would like to undertake to ensure their continued growth. Over the coming quarters, we will work with the schools to take action on short-term priorities such as:
- the creation of a central communications channel that will serve as a one-stop-shop for information on college events and programs, and
- longer-tern priorities like building a clearing house to connect students looking for jobs with the Brooklyn business community.
In fact, connecting the Downtown Brooklyn student body to local retailers has long been mentioned as a priority of the business community. Recent focus groups conducted by the DBP said that this gap is perceived to exist in part due to:
- a lack of student life options in Downtown, and
- many students leave after class and do not patronize local businesses or event venues because they do not feel that they cater to their tastes or are welcoming.
As an immediate step to help change this perception, we are planning a back-to-school party called the “Downtown Brooklyn Colleges Fest” for returning students in late September. The event will feature music acts that the students clamor for and will transform a parking lot into a series of stages and booths for vendors. A number of the Downtown universities are working cooperatively on this project – including NYU-Poly, Long Island University, St. Francis and Berkeley College. This is a step in the right direction.
The Colleges Fest is just the beginning of what we anticipate will be year-round activities for college students to take part in – all of which will help create a College Town that’s as unique and vibrant as Downtown Brooklyn itself.
Tucker Reed is the president of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, a non-profit local development corporation that serves as the primary champion for Downtown Brooklyn as a world-class business, educational, cultural, and retail destination.