University City

BLE construction will continue to play major role for UCity in 2015

University City officials called 2014 a tremendous year for area growth and believe that a number of the projects that made it so – many involving transportation – will carry through the new year.

The continued construction of the Lynx Blue Line and its associated infrastructure was among the first to be mentioned by many officials.

Darlene Heater, executive director of University City Partners, called the construction a big, celebratory event.

“It’s a pretty exciting time for University City. There’s a lot of opportunity, (and) a lot of work to do,” Heater said.

The Blue Line Extension (BLE) isn’t scheduled to open for ridership until 2017, so much of this year will consist of ongoing construction that will require residents’ patience with traffic, said city councilman Greg Phipps.

“Major construction is about to come on-board and that’s probably going to cause some more traffic congestion,” Phipps said. “If we can just have the patience … to be able to persevere through this phase, what comes on at the end is something we’ll all embrace and be proud of.”

Phipps asked that residents keep the larger picture in mind as other road projects and improvements impact local traffic.

“We just have a lot of concurrent projects that got started in 2014 and are in various stages of completion,” he said. “It takes some time for those things to get done. But I’m optimistic if we can get past this period, we’ll have a transformative area.”

Access to and around the area also will be improved by the opening of the final segments of Interstate 485 this spring, Heater said. She also said connectivity and access would be enhanced by improvements to UCity’s network of green ways.

Greenway projects will get underway after voters approved a $146 million city bond package last November that will, in part, link UCity’s existing greenway network to the proposed 26-mile, Cross-Charlotte multi-use trail, Heater said.

Also in 2015, a partnership between UNC Charlotte Urban Design students, Mecklenburg County Parks and Rec, and University City Partners, among others, will help create a master park plan for UCity, Heater said.

Officials hope to have the plan ready for public review later this year as a way to help build momentum and public support for UCity parks, Heater said.

2014 also was a banner year for UNC Charlotte, where enrollment surpassed 27,000 for the first time, said spokesperson John Bland. That bump is attributed in part to a new initiative to recruit more graduate students, he said.

Future enrollment will eventually max out at 35,000, though university officials don’t anticipate that to happen for several years, Bland said.

The extension of the Levine Scholars Program through 2020 also will have a lasting effect, Bland said. The program will grow from supporting up to 15 students per year to up to 20 students annually, beginning in 2016.

In 2015, UNCC will also:

•  Finish renovations and expansion of the on-campus Belk Gymnasium, and complete a new dining facility and residence hall renovation that are part of the larger South Village plan, among other capital projects, Bland said. Ground also will be broken on the new Levine Hall, a student residence hall scheduled to take about a year to complete.

•  See the possibility of televised, night football games following the installation of stadium lights and as part of the 49ers’ inclusion in Conference USA, Bland said.