Political turf war emerging as UT expands Houston footprint, UH objects

- Within the Lone Star State's largest city, a major turf war is gaining steam.

It started back in November when some 332 highly sought acres found a surprise buyer in the deep pocketed University of Texas System.

With the property located just off the West Loop near NRG stadium and the old Astroworld grounds, the estimated $450 million land deal is being viewed as an act of academic aggression by supporters of the University of Houston.

"I consider it an invasion," says former UH regent and legendary local developer Welcome Wilson Sr. He calls UT an uninvited "800 pound gorilla" looking to carve off a share of students and research dollars at the expense of an existing state supported institution.

"The idea of duplicating services and competing with each other just makes no sense for the taxpayers," said Wilson.

Speaking for the UT System, Chancellor Bill McRaven envisions a thriving research center on the property and has assured angry Houston lawmakers he doesn't covet UH students or plan to launch a branch campus.

Rice political analyst Mark Jones believes UT's primary goal is the billions of worth of bio-medical and energy development funding that pour into the Bayou City.

If that's the case, Houston lawmakers may be unable to block the UT expansion by appealing to the state's Higher Education Coordinating Board 

"If UT were going to offer classes that's something the Coordinating Board as well legislators like Senator (John) Whitmire and Representative (Garnet) Coleman could probably block, but it's going to be tougher if UT is going to use all its own resources and do things that are going to provide benefits for industry and the community," said Jones.

In response to a request for comment from Fox 26 the UT System issued the following statement:

"For the past 75 years, The University of Texas System has been deeply involved in the educational, research and economic growth of Houston through the presence of UT MD Anderson and UTHealth Houston-two premier institutions of the UT System, which together make up the city’s second-largest employer. There are no official plans yet for the land in Houston, but Chancellor McRaven envisions an intellectual and innovation hub focused on research, discovery and collaboration. A task force made up of Houstonians will play a key role in developing ideas and recommendations for how the site can best be utilized. We look at this as a strategic investment to serve the people of Texas, which is the ultimate responsibility of public higher education, and there are no plans to duplicate programs already being offered by the fine higher education institutions already in Houston."

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