University City

Group: Park can be urban center

University City's 45-year-old research park might one day be transformed into an urban employment center with residences and services, if the Charlotte City Council approves a zoning change.

With a zoning change from RE-1 and RE-2 to RE-3, local leaders hope to see the heavily wooded, 2,200-acre office and light industrial park become a more pedestrian-friendly place.

Future development could include hotels, hospitals, housing, nursing homes, places for worship, art galleries, athletic and sports facilities, and barber and beauty shops, according to a petition filed with the city's Planning Department.

Board members for University City Partners, a special tax district that promotes University City's commercial core, has asked the City Council for the zoning change. The council will hear public comments on the request May 16.

The research district is an anchor for University City. Spread out along Interstate 85 and W.T. Harris Boulevard, it includes more than 10 million square feet of office space where more than 20,000 people report to work.

Still, more than 600 acres are still undeveloped and occupancy is declining. Much of the decline has been due to mergers and business failures, according to a 2008 study by the Urban Land Institute.