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March 23, 2013

In our Opinion: Landlords must adapt to succeed

The Daily Star

---- — Gambling with Oneonta’s economic future. A downward spiral. A roll of the dice. 

Those are some of the metaphors used to describe the 325-bed student apartment development proposed for Blodgett Drive adjacent to the SUNY Oneonta campus. 

Many Oneonta landlords and merchants oppose the project, arguing that it will do everything from driving down property values citywide to putting Main Street shops out of business. 

But to hear developer Jeffrey Smetana describe it, the complex will bring much-needed housing to students currently tripled up in dorm rooms or settling for substandard off-campus apartments. 

In fact, to listen to both sides of this argument, it’s hard to believe they’re even talking about the same thing. Which leads us to think that the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. 

Opponents of the development have complained that rents paid to this developer would be flowing out of the local area. But this argument rings false when you consider how many landlords of local properties do not themselves live in the city.  

If we were a student landlord, we’d be concerned about this proposed development too. After all, those 325 beds would represent 325 fewer potential customers. 

And there may in fact be more student housing in Center City than the market can bear. But the key word in that sentence is “student.” Ask Bassett Healthcare or the local colleges how easy it is for their employees to find places to live in town. Student rentals crowd out a lot of other potential buyers or tenants in Center City. This development could ease some of that crowding. 

So we agree with the Save Oneonta folks on one thing. The Blodgett project may take away some of their potential customers. 

But only as long as they continue renting exclusively to students. 

If some of these student landlords were to start renting to the rest of us, we think they would find plenty of customers. 

Both the State University College at Oneonta and the people behind the Blodgett development conducted studies showing that there’s a need for a particular type of student housing. Before this developer came along, the college was planning to build its own dormitory. And if the development suddenly went away, it’s likely the college would go back to its original plan. 

Either way, local landlords are going to see some competition for students within the next few years. And if this means that some of the student rentals in Center City revert back to single-family homes, or open up to non-student tenants, we don’t think that’s a bad thing.