Unable to resolve complaints of unfair competition from local florists, Western Kentucky University is closing its floral shop.

WKU spokesman Bob Skipper said in a statement last week the decision was in response to a group of local florists concerned that the WKU Floral Shop “represented unfair market competition because it is partially subsidized by a public university.”

Social media reactions have been mixed, with Facebook postings lamenting the change and local florists cheering it. The controversy raises questions about where universities should draw the line in their town and gown relations.

Jay Blanton, executive director of the University of Kentucky’s public relations and marketing division, said he wasn’t aware of anything similar to the WKU Floral Shop on his campus. However, he said UK has tried to cultivate partnerships.

“What we’ve tried to do in a number of instances is partner with local businesses to serve the campus,” he said. A local coffee shop, for example, has a location on campus.

The Daily News also reached out to representatives at the University of Louisville and Eastern Kentucky University to ask if they’ve had any similar enterprises that have drawn complaints from local business owners. Both said they were unaware of any similar disputes on their campuses.

A spokeswoman from Northern Kentucky University said, to her knowledge, there had been no similar disputes at NKU.

Jami Hornbuckle, a public relations officer and chief of marketing at Morehead State University, said in a statement that MSU works closely with local businesses. Hornbuckle is also the president of the local chamber of commerce.

“Morehead State University works closely and collaboratively with the local chamber and businesses. We see the town-gown relationship as one of synergy. We work cooperatively to provide the best possible services and opportunities to our students and community at-large. Our greatest successes come when we plan and work together,” Hornbuckle said.

In his statement, Skipper said WKU officials “made a good-faith effort to address the group’s questions and concerns and, in the interest of maintaining an important student learning laboratory, sought to find a mutually agreeable solution that would have allowed the shop to continue operating under a public-private partnership.”

However, WKU wasn’t able to arrive at an agreement that would resolve concerns stemming from nine florists in Bowling Green, Franklin and Scottsville.

“Given the totality of the $30 million budget shortfall that WKU is currently managing, the university determined that it is in the institution’s best interest not to engage in a dispute with community business owners,” Skipper said.

Much of the chatter on social media suggested that Warren County Judge-Executive Mike Buchanon, whose family owns Bowling Green’s Deemer Flower Co., pressured the shop to close.

Buchanon admitted Monday to being involved with the group, but that the group’s efforts may not have ultimately led to the shop’s closure.

“Yes, I am involved with it as it pertains to my wife’s business and the other small businesses in the community,” Buchanon said. “However, I don’t think we’ve had enough of an impact to cause them to take any action.

“All the retail florists in the region have complained for years, to deaf ears. We’ve met with the administration, complained to whoever might listen. But I think they may be closing simply because they tell us that the flower shop loses money every year.”

Bill Slavens, the proprietor of Allen County Floral in Scottsville, also expressed frustration.

“I don’t understand why my tax dollars are in competition with me,” he said. “I don’t think government should ever be in business.”

Skipper didn’t indicate how much savings the university would get by closing the floral shop or if any jobs would be cut.

WKU President Timothy Caboni said in a campus email Thursday that the university will continue to work with students.

“We will continue offering the floral design program at WKU and will work to ensure that those students have meaningful experiential learning opportunities in this field,” he wrote.

– Follow education reporter Aaron Mudd on Twitter @BGDN_edbeat or visit bgdailynews.com.

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