3 big ideas for the growth of University City

A render of the Waters Edge project in University City. Courtesy of Crescent Communities.

A pedestrian promenade along North Tryon Street. A city center by the lake. A railroad to North Charlotte.

This is only part of the nonprofit future that University City Partners sees for the city’s second largest employment center.

  • The group this month released a vision plan designed to guide growth over the next two decades in the region.
  • Of course, its implementation will require buy-in from developers and the city.

Why is this important: The vision plan is part of an effort to transform the suburban college town from a largely car-focused drive into a more mixed-use pedestrian environment.

Some of the items on this wishlist are already coming to life. Crescent Communities recently opened NOVEL University Place, the 311-unit multi-family community that will be the residential anchor for Waters Edge, the planned redevelopment of a former mall.

NOVEL apartments Place de l’Université. Courtesy of the Sprouthouse Agency.

  • “You are starting to see the beginnings of developments in the transformation from suburbs to urban,” says Darlene Heater, executive director of University City Partners.

Yes, but: The university area is known for its diversity and relative accessibility compared to other parts of the city. Leaders need to find a balance between preserving this and embracing change.

Heater said diversity was one of the factors that drove her to move to University City with her family 30 years ago.

  • “Our job is to protect this”, she says. “You do it by questioning every investment, every development, every initiative you work on. – It must be intentional. It’s not just going to happen.

Here are some ideas for the future growth of the region.

Downtown

What is happening: Texas developer EB Arrow is transforming a former mall into offices, homes and businesses along the lake in the middle of the property.

University City Partners envisions the development and area around JW Clay Boulevard station as the “downtown” of University City.

  • According to the group, there are 176 acres of developable land within half a mile of area transit stations.
  • The plan aims to bring a mix of housing, offices, homes, parks and businesses to each of the stations.

Between the lines: EB Arrow’s “Waters Edge” project, at the intersection of WT Harris Boulevard and North Tryon Street, will bring open space, including a park and trail, to the lake.

  • The developer was also in negotiations with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library to locate the University City branch of the project, as I reported for The Observer in February.

What they say : Crescent Development Director Katie Maloomian tells me the project is a catalyst for the implementation of the vision plan.

  • “I feel like this kind of development is filling that void by the lake, where you see big boxes (stores) with loading docks,” she said. “It hasn’t been activated, and now sections of the lake will be activated.”

A conceptual rendering of a more pedestrian-friendly North Tryon Street. Courtesy of University City Partners.

Job growth

The big picture: The university area is already home to big companies like TIAA, Wells Fargo and Allstate. More people are employed there than at Ballantyne, deputy city manager Tracy Dodson recently told council members.

  • And now, St. Louis-based healthcare giant Centene Corp. is building a head office and technology center on the east coast that will employ 3,200 people in the university research park.
  • The company will receive up to $ 450 million in incentives from the state, city and county of Mecklenburg if it meets certain hiring goals.

Centene said he plans to work with the city to improve connectivity in the region.

  • For example, the company wants to someday use autonomous buses (a “last mile” transportation option) to connect the light rail station to its campus. It’s a way to provide better access for employees who will use the blue line to get to work, as Ely Portillo of the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute recently wrote.
  • City council will consider reimbursing Centene 50% of the cost, or up to $ 6.6 million, to make improvements at two intersections.
  • “How can we work together to get some of these regional improvements that not only benefit the Centene campus, but also benefit traffic in the larger area? Dodson said.

Dodson told the board that the first phase of the campus will open in the third quarter of next year.

A large part of the university research park, where there are many large employers, is made up of suburban-style office buildings that are not very walkable.

  • University City Partners hopes that future development will link University Research Park to North Tryon Street and UNC Charlotte.
  • A planned bridge on Interstate 85 will also connect the two areas.

And the redevelopment a more than 200 acre office park housing TIAA, Wells Fargo and some of the region’s other major employers, is also part of that transition.

  • The new owners plan to build more than 1,000 multi-family dwellings, hotel rooms, shops and new offices.

More green space

University City has no parks, according to the vision plan, despite the region’s rapid expansion.

Driving the news: In addition to parks and open spaces near light rail stations, University City Partners wants a “Greenbelt” system for the region.

  • This would connect several greenways in the region to public transit and other ongoing amenities.

A planned walking / cycling track. Courtesy of University City Partners.

The group is also hoping the local government will help fund a trail parallel to the busy North Tryon Street, similar to the Rail Trail in South End, or the planned loop at SouthPark.

  • The hope, says Heater, is to create a more inviting place for people to walk and cycle between light rail stations.

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