Here’s the thing to know about University City: The conveniences just keep getting better.
Trips around town are quicker, thanks to our long-awaited Interstate 485 exits, which opened this spring. Retail choices and inexpensive housing options add to the appeal.
If you’re looking for a place to live because of a work or life change, University City is worth considering. Here are six things to know about the area that helps make living in it notable – and easier:
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University City will be just a train ride away from uptown when the $1.1-billion light-rail line service begins in 2017. Work on the 9.3-mile Blue Line Extension is transforming the North Tryon Street corridor, where the train will travel in the center of the northbound and southbound traffic lanes. When completed, light-rail service will run from Ninth Street uptown to UNC Charlotte’s main campus. Planners envision broader sidewalks at Tryon near W.T. Harris Boulevard to create a walkable town center.
Growth is the story at the public university, where the headcount has surged by nearly 4,000 students since 2008. With more than 28,000 expected this fall, officials say the rise in enrollment over the past six years represents 46 percent of the growth in the UNC system.
Other things to know: UNC Charlotte Center City opened in a 12-story building in 2011, and the 49ers’ inaugural football season kicked off in 2013.
University City Partners
Authorized by the city of Charlotte in 2003 and funded by a special tax, this nonprofit promotes economic development in the area. According to the group, it has funded more than $600,000 in publicly approved plans to boost the area’s economic viability.
Home to everything from well-known brands like IKEA and Trader Joe’s to small businesses, the area has 430 retail locations, according to University City Partners. Check out the The Shoppes at University Place for its mix of locally owned businesses and national chain stores. There’s also a lake for strolls and paddleboat rides.
Take advantage of the neighborhood entrances along the 7-plus miles that make up Mallard Creek and Clark’s Creek greenways, which represent the longest stretch of greenway in the system. Don’t overlook park options, from the trails inside the 188-acre RibbonWalk Nature Preserve, to the playing field at the 16-acre Thereasea Clark Elder Park.
... and concrete stretches
Yes, there are still some areas that annoyingly run out of safe walkways, but help is on the way: Work continues on the Graham Street extension and the widening of Mallard Creek Road, which will bring more sidewalks and pedestrian accommodations.
For now, though, there is plenty of pavement to stretch your legs. Check out tree-lined Highland Creek Parkway, Mallard Creek Road between W.T. Harris Boulevard and Prosperity Church Road, and Neal Road – which is flanked by schools named after past North Carolina governors.
Celeste, who works on the Observer’s business news team, has lived in University City for 19 years.
Play at The Shoppes at University Place: Take your pick: Pedal a paddleboat in the lake, relax with wine or beer at the Wine Vault/Beer Garden, shop, eat or snack. The generous ice cream scoops served up at Ninety’s Sandwiches is a longtime local favorite.
Take on the University City Duathlon: Get a different view of University Research Park while running and biking the greenway trails in this annual springtime run/bike/run event. There’s also a kid-friendly sprint race, and a 5K.
Enjoy UNC Charlotte’s offerings: Garden lovers can check out the children’s programs and adult workshops at the Botanical Garden and McMillan Greenhouse. For theater fans, there’s Robinson Hall for the Performing Arts. If you’re interested in continuing education, find out about in-class and online offerings through the Extended Academic Programs division.
Brave the interchange: The I-485 exits in University City include design features that can seem daunting at first, from traffic roundabouts off Prosperity Church Road to the diverging diamond interchange at Mallard Creek Road, where two directions of traffic temporarily cross to the left side of the road.
Spot a rural-meets-urban moment: Driving down Mallard Creek Road toward I-485 on a Sunday afternoon, I did a double-take at a man in a cowboy hat riding a horse along the side of the road in the opposite direction – a not-so-subtle reminder of the woodlands and pastures now part of the area’s rural past.