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Will the light rail finally make University City less boring? I hope so

I moved to Charlotte in 2009. I had about a week to find a place to live before my job started, and I was only in Charlotte for a couple of those days, so I had to make a quick decision.

Being just out of college, I wanted to be in an area with other young people, and with plenty of bars and restaurants and places to hang out. And it had to be affordable — I was going into journalism, after all.

I should have looked at areas around South End, NoDa and Plaza Midwood. Instead, I got a tiny, one-bedroom apartment in the University City area because (1) It was cheap (2) I didn’t know anything about Charlotte and (3) I assumed that being around UNC Charlotte meant that I would be surrounded by cool places to hang out — the places where all the students hang out. (Don’t laugh.)

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

University City is Chain Restaurant Central and there were just a couple of halfway decent bars. It’s not walkable, it’s far from the center of the city and I still have no idea where UNC Charlotte students hang out. (NoDa?)

How has this area — with 28,000 college kids coming in and out each year, and so many people working and living there — remained so boring, so suburb-y?

Maybe the LYNX Blue Line light rail extension will help change that.

According this Ely Portillo story for the Observer, property owners in the area want to use the light rail to “spur a round of redevelopment that’s easier on walkers and bicyclists and less car-dependent.” UCity wants to live that South End life.

“We need a Main Street,” Darlene Heater, executive director of University City Partners, told the Observer. “We don’t have a Main Street.”

Here’s the plan:

  • University City Partners wants to turn the area around the J.W. Clay Boulevard light rail station into a “new town center, with dense, mixed-use development centered around the station.”
  • They have brought together six property owners in the area — shopping centers, UNC Charlotte and Carolinas HealthCare System University — and together they’ll hire a consultant and get the planning process started soon.
  • Some of the things they’ll be thinking about: “how to better connect different developments and analyze how much new residential, office and retail space the area can support,” according to Portillo’s article.

It’s not going to be easy. I lived just down J.W. Clay from where that new station will be. There’s a lot of traffic around there, and it’s boxed in by huge asphalt arteries — Tryon Street and Harris Boulevard.

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The area has potential, though. If there’s one area of University City that even vaguely resembles a walkable, downtown-y area, it’s The Shoppes at University Place, across J.W. Clay from where this new station will be. And there’s a greenway that runs right by the shopping center on the other side of the new station.

All the pieces are in place to make University City a walkable, bike friendly downtown area. (Why do you keep laughing?) I imagine the college students want it, and it would make the college more attractive to potential students.

Will it work? Who knows? But maybe in a few years I’ll be wishing I never left University City.

Read more about this in Ely Portillo’s story.

Photos: Davie Hinshaw/Charlotte Observer

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