Monday, August 20, 2007

The Dispatch's Odd Take on Quaker Square

Yesterday’s Dispatch ran troublingly tendentious story about the University of Akron’s impending purchase of the Quaker Square property. While I haven’t been much impressed with Beacon’s reporting on the issue, the Dispatch story makes the ABJ’s coverage look Pulitzer-worthy by comparison

The reporter tries to make the case that Something Is Wrong with the system by which universities acquire property, but appears not to have the facts to do so. Instead, the story contains dark-toned paragraphs which, once qualifiers are added, mean little. The rhythm of the piece is [1. Damning factoid] comma although [2. clarification that makes it not so damning really.]
As in:

    [1]The price for a fifth of those purchases was at a rate of at least $1 million an acre, although [2]state officials say such a measure holds little meaning for developed urban land.

Why yes, I could see how land with a ten story building on it might be a tad pricier than just land. Next,

    The historic downtown Akron structure -- converted in the mid-1970s from a grain elevator to a hotel featuring round rooms in the former silos -- will be converted again early next year into dorms for 382 students. [1]That's about $60,000 per student, although [2] the complex also includes offices, a banquet hall and 450 parking spaces.

And lots of retail and restaurant space that also could be converted to myriad uses. And by the way, how much “per student” does dorm space generally cost?

    The $22.7 million price, which matches the lower of the college's two appraisals, [1] is more than double the property's $9.8 million value for tax purposes.

    While [2] the price for almost any real estate transaction is more than the county auditor's official valuation of the property, universities are paying on average about 63 percent more than the land's tax value.

Anyone who has tried to write messaging for a levy campaign knows this one. Taxable value is a fraction of actual market value. So if this was really a damning fact, maybe we would have some information about how much more than tax value urban property generally runs. We don’t. Throughout piece, the reporter fails to provide crucial facts that make the numbers meaningful. Instead, he shocks us with numbers than mean nothing without context.

Then we have this.

    The Quaker Square purchase, which initially angered Mayor Donald Plusquellic because he was kept in the dark, also benefits Akron industrialist and charter-school operator David Brennan, who would own the city's only downtown hotel.

    "It should help us, yes," Brennan, owner of the 274-room Radisson Hotel Akron City Centre, told the Akron Beacon Journal. He said Akron doesn't need a second downtown hotel.

*gasp* A David Brenner sighting. But perhaps the reporter should have noted that the same Akron Beacon Journal has reported that some rooms in the Quaker Square hotel will remain hotel rooms and that the city is in the process of finding a developer for a new hotel. Kind of an important additional fact.

It may or may not be true that our public universities are paying too much for property. If it’s true, the reporter should have dug up the facts to make the case. If it isn’t true, the story shouldn’t have run.

UPDATE: I don't have an online source to link, but Hannah News Service is reporting that the Controlling Board approved the purchase.


Anonymous said...

you might have to add another update. The Dispatch is now reporting that the $9.8m valuation figure was actually accurate, and the school had it wrong when it went before the Controlling Board (link). Ray Miller wants them to come back before the board.