University City

University City shopping centers lose tenants to Belgate

Popular shopping centers in University City have recently lost tenants, leaving behind empty stores and less foot traffic.

The Shoppes at University Place off W.T. Harris Boulevard has lost tenants such as Old Navy and Ulta; The Commons at Chancellor Park off University City Boulevard has lost Marshalls and Hobby Lobby. Those stores have moved to Belgate, the new shopping center on Ikea Boulevard, just off Interstate 85.

Mary Hopper, executive director of the advocacy group University City Partners, said it’s typical of retail to change locations. As to why the stores moved, she said there isn’t one definite answer.

“Retail goes where it gets a good deal,” she said. “It’s always moving and looking for a deal. It’s the reality of retail.”

In years past, Hopper said, when a store moved, it would leave University City altogether. She said she was encouraged that these stores were staying in the area this time.

“Even though (they have) moved, the stores are still in University City,” said Hopper. “We used to lose a lot of stores to Concord Mills and places like that. But I’m glad to see that retail is still staying in our area.”

Hopper said what concerns her is how the empty store space will get filled. The former Walmart off J.W. Clay Boulevard in the Shoppes at University Place has been empty since June 2009. Hopper believes that is discouraging other companies from leasing in the shopping center.

“It’s such an eyesore,” she said. “It has great visibility, just off W.T. Harris, and everyone can see how deserted it looks.”

Dawn Prince Hoover of The Shopping Center Group, which is leasing space on the former Walmart property to businesses, declined to comment as to why the store moved or why the old location is still empty, as the sale of the property is still pending.

DDR Corp. built and manages the Belgate shopping center, which opened in May. The complex is 890,000 square feet and has leased stores to Marshalls, Ulta, Old Navy, PetSmart, World Market, Hobby Lobby and Shoe Carnival. The company also owns 12 other locations in Charlotte, Cotswold Village, Terraces at SouthPark, Camfield Corners and Carolina Pavilion.

Matt Schuler, communications manager with DDR, said the location of Belgate was a selling point for tenants, and demand for space there was high.

“The appeal of our Belgate Shopping Center is evident through its prime location along Interstate 85, the primary thoroughfare connecting Washington, D.C., and Atlanta, and features the only Ikea store between these two major metro areas,” he said. “It extends the project’s trade area to more than 2 million shoppers.”

Schuler also said the growth of University City appealed to DDR and was a driving force behind the project.

“The center’s value-oriented merchandise mix will benefit from stable traffic generated by the adjacent UNC Charlotte campus, with more than 30,000 students, and the future extension of the Charlotte Area Transit System,” he said. “The public has responded favorably to Belgate, and traffic has exceeded our expectations.”