By Alexandria Sands, Axios Charlotte
N.C. State has Hillsborough Street. UNC Chapel Hill has Franklin Street. Clemson has Tiger Boulevard and College Avenue.
UNC Charlotte, the second-largest university in the UNC system, doesn’t have a main drag. A central location where students, faculty, supporters and alumni unite to buy game day T-shirts, grab a pint or storm the streets when the football team (one day!?) wins a championship.
Yes, but: Charlotte-based Cambridge Properties plans to redevelop a roughly 15-acre property within walking distance to the 49ers football stadium and just across from the JW Clay Boulevard light rail station.
University City Partners sees it as an opportunity to create the school’s modern version of a “student main street” connecting to the North Tryon entrance to UNC Charlotte.
Of note: It will be years before this vision could come to life. The first part of the four-phase redevelopment won’t finish for at least a couple years.
What’s happening: The developer of the Food Lion-anchored Mallard Pointe Shopping Center intends to turn the nearly 30-year-old suburban strip and its sprawling parking lot into a vertical, high-density, mixed-use development.
“Stadiums tend to bring back that alumni force in some way,” Tobe Holmes, the planning and development director of UCP, tells Axios. “It’s pretty well positioned for this concept, and the timing is great.”
Why it matters: A future main street could act as a gathering place for students, draw alumni back to the university and promote UNC Charlotte.
It could also help recruit professors, administrators and prospective students.
“Charlotte as a city of transients doesn’t recognize UNC Charlotte as … their local college or local university in a way. I think (the development) helps build the university’s brand,” Holmes said.
Details: Cambridge Properties already has an idea of how it wants to rebuild Mallard Pointe. This week, the developers sought community input on how to make its streets feel like a college downtown.
Cambridge will redevelop the site in four quadrants, starting with replacing the vacant Kohl’s with a six-story, 300-apartment building and ground-floor retail. Some existing tenants could move into the building. Construction on the approximate 4.5 acres is expected to start in 12 to 18 months and will take two years.
Future phases could include more retail and a grocer, structured parking, nearly 400 additional housing units, a 150-room hotel and an office building. But construction on the second quadrant won’t start until construction is done on the first.
The main street would extend straight through the Mallard Pointe entrance and development. It would continue on an intersecting road — running parallel to North Tryon, between the four quadrants — that connects to Olmstead Drive toward the Shoppes At University Place and Boardwalk Billy’s.
The big picture: The development will need strong walkability and specific tenants for it to feel like a college downtown. For example, the restaurant Tiger Town Tavern just outside Clemson’s campus celebrates the school, from its bright orange overhangs to its tiger wall art.
Plans to give the UNC Charlotte area a walkable, college downtown feel include wider sidewalks, trees and outdoor seating.
“Through urban design, you can create a place that feels like a main street,” Holmes says.
Local businesses are preferable for the redevelopment. University City already has many chain restaurants and retailers, the developers noted during a tour of the site on Monday. But it’s more financially realistic to expect a blend of franchises and small local businesses.
What they’re saying: UNC Charlotte junior Zan Scarfato attended Monday’s site walk with the developer and UCP. He told me he appreciates how the developer’s plan is modern compared to the usual, old downtowns you see near a university. “It’s giving a mix of a college town and a city school,” he said.
Zack Hogan, also a junior, said it would be nice to experience the same community feel as a neighborhood like NoDa or LoSo so close to campus. “I, for one, don’t like having to go 30 minutes across the city to go to a nice, urban area for drinks or food or just to hang out with the guys,” he said.
Senior Kobe Brown is hoping developers will include a local coffee shop, a tavern to watch games and boutiques.
What’s next: The Congress for the New Urbanism is holding its annual conference in Charlotte later this spring. Hoping to leave a mark, CNU awarded an in-kind “legacy grant” worth more than $100,000 for this project, per Holmes.
That covers the cost of design experts to help put on this week’s charrette, an accelerated design process that includes seeking community input. The developer will consider incorporating the ideas from stakeholders into their final plans, but they aren’t committed to anything yet.
“We embrace the notion of having a main street extension into the property. We’ve had that as the baseline of our plans for years, actually, for the redevelopment,” George Maloomian, CEO of Cambridge Properties, tells Axios. “We’re excited that University City Partners and Perkins+Will and the Congress of New Urbanism are working to sketch up different ideas that we can look at to sort of refresh our view and offer alternatives to some of the streetscape and hardscape of that area.”
My thought bubble: I’m an alumna of UNC Charlotte. When I toured campuses, I quickly noticed there was no downtown reminiscent of Hillsborough Street or Appalachian’s King Street. But the campus made up for what the surrounding area lacked.
The closest comparison is the boardwalk, but it never felt like ours. It will take intentional effort on behalf of the developer to make Mallard Pointe feel like home to the students.