University City

Nonprofit moves to encourage economic growth

University City Partners is setting up shop in Innovation Park, the University area's largest commercial property.

The nonprofit University City Partners relocated to the 1.9 million-square-foot campus last week, one year after Rockville, Md.-based BECO Management bought the park. The move will help University City Partners (UCP) encourage economic growth in University City, Executive Director Mary Hopper said.

"This move will give us a front row seat at what is taking place in Innovation Park," said Hopper. "UCP will be much easier for people to access, and the location allows us to project a slightly more professional, more upscale image."

University City Partners is Charlotte's first suburban municipal service district, which covers the northeastern part of the city, including UNC Charlotte and University Research Park. The organization is charged with marketing and branding University City to attract business investments, said Brad Richardson, economic development manager for the city of Charlotte.

UCP currently occupies about 700 square feet in the Ben Craig Center and will double its size by moving to Innovation Park, originally built for IBM more than 30 years ago and most recently known as Meridian Corporate Center. The new office space allows for a conference room for UCP to meet with clients. The campus also features amenities like bike trails, restaurants, a child-care center and a 7,000-square-foot fitness center.

The move is mutually beneficial for UCP and Innovation Park, Hopper said, and Innovation Park's history with IBM make it particularly fitting to house UCP.

"This move puts us at the crossroads of the history of the park and its future," said Hopper. "When IBM came, it put us on the map. With the hiring they did, people began moving here and houses began to cost more."

UCP Project Manager Janelle Goodrich said UCP's open door policy will be better served in a more prominent location. She hopes UCP's presence in Innovation Park will draw even more attention to the city, which is home to 155,000 citizens.

"Part of being UCP is to present yourself to the public and be innovative," said Goodrich. "The more we're accessible and exposed, the more they want to be involved and they'll be excited about University City. That's what we're about, bringing more attention to the city."

The Charlotte City Council created University City Partners in 2003. After five years of setting a foundation, UCP was able to double in size and triple in budget by 2008, allowing it to expand to three full-time employees and open an office.

UCP has continued to develop the city despite the economic downturn, Hopper said, noting Charlotte's light rail system and expansion in University Research Park.

"It's a city that's been asleep for a long time," said Goodrich, "yet it has all these wonderful features that have kind of been a secret."