Community leaders in University City are working on a plan to rebrand the area with a clearer identity and geographical boundary.
University City is evolving, growing rapidly in the areas of education, transit and business. The 1996 Northeast District Plan, which first identified the University City area, said it was “anticipated to be the fastest-growing area in Mecklenburg County.”
Seventeen years later, that prediction is coming true, said Charlotte City Councilman Michael Barnes, who represents University City. But he said, the city needs to pace that growth.
“If we develop too many apartments and retail too quickly, things can be cheaply done,” he said. “We are paying the price for some bad decisions made in the past and I don’t intend for my district to be the dumping ground of Mecklenburg County,” but he wouldn’t elaborate on those decisions.
Claire Fallon, City Council member at-large who lives in University City, said the area is the new Ballantyne – a high-growth area that is popular with homebuyers.
“With the expansion and growth of Innovation Park, which is a lot like Ballantyne Corporate Park, we are more like Ballantyne than ever,” she said. “We are growing and changing in very positive ways.”
Fallon also said she is worried about too much growth happening too fast. “Change takes time,” she said. “But we are determined to make the right kind of changes.”
Barnes, who is a board member of the University City Partners, said they are working on rebranding the area to reflect the recent growth and development.
“We want people to stop saying ‘University area’ because people aren’t sure where that is,” he said. “We need to establish borders and help create and maintain an identity so when you hear ‘University City,’ you’ll have a clear picture in your mind about where that is.”
“We are attracting technologically innovative entrepreneurs who want to start businesses here,” he said. “The university is growing, and homes in the area are in demand. It’s my intention to make Northeast Charlotte what it should be.”
Barnes attributes much of the growth of University City to UNC Charlotte.
“The applied innovation corridor has grown tremendously because of UNCC,” he said. “As it’s growing, it’s attracting research and development technology businesses, which are bringing more people and jobs to the area.”
With the new UNCC Energy Production and Infrastructure Center research facility, or EPIC, many companies interested in energy technology are relocating to University City. The most recent addition has been AREVA, a nuclear technology company that relocated its headquarters to the area in March.
“We want this to be a research and development technology area,” said Barnes. “It’s all part of the growth plan for University City.”
Perhaps the most talked-about addition to University City will be the Blue Line Extension, part of the LYNX light rail that currently runs from South Charlotte to Center City. The light rail will extend into University City, beginning at Ninth Street in uptown and ending at UNCC.
Barnes said the Blue Line Extension will help residents of University City feel connected to the rest of Charlotte. At a public meeting held May 19, some residents said they feel forgotten by the rest of Charlotte.
“The identity of the area is being created as we speak, and the Blue Line Extension is a big part of that,” said Barnes. “I think it’s going to help develop a lot of mixed-use development along the track, which is something outlined in the University City area plan. It’ll help us feel like we’ve got a place of our own in Charlotte.”