UT System Says It Won't Proceed with Houston Campus

Mar 1, 2017

The University of Texas System has decided to scrap its controversial plans to build an educational and research facility in Houston.

The System announced the decision Wednesday, saying opposition to the project was overshadowing the work being done to develop the 300 acres of land the system had bought. 

“I accept full responsibility for the lack of progress on this initiative. I am grateful to the Regents, my System staff and the university presidents for their engagement over the last year,” Chancellor Bill McRaven said in a memo to Board of Regents Chairman Paul Foster.

The decision was a thrill to the idea's many opponents, including the University of Houston. Reached briefly in the Capitol on Wednesday, University of Houston System Board Chairman Tilman Fertitta said, "You can quote us. We are very happy about it."

In a statement, state Sen. Borris Miles, D-Houston, said he was pleased. 

"I respect the decision by the University of Texas System to not proceed with the development of a local campus on the 300 acres located in my Senatorial District," said Miles, who also represents the University of Houston. "I met with UT administration and leadership several times, and questioned the recently-appointed regents regarding this purchase at their nomination hearing."

The UT System purchased more than 300 acres in the northwest part of the state's biggest city, but never made clear what its plans were for the land. McRaven has repeatedly said that he didn't want to build a new university on the site. But at times he raised the possibility that the land could be used for research collaboration among member schools. Early renderings of the campus included multiple buildings, athletic fields and other campus-like facilities. 

The idea was announced in November 2015, and prompted immediate pushback both in Houston and in the Capitol. University of Houston officials felt like it was the state's biggest university system encroaching in their area — and that the plans would hurt UH's upward trajectory. 

Legislators, meanwhile, were furious. They said they hadn't been consulted prior to the announcement of the plans, and questioned why the system was spending so much money without legislative input. In a hearing in January, senators repeatedly admonished him for the decision. 

It's not immediately clear what the system will do with the land, which cost $215 million. Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, described it in January as a dump that no one else wanted. But McRaven disputed that, saying in a letter last month that it was developable. 

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From The Texas Tribune