Jul 3, 2023 - Development

Entertainment district, new library, college downtown among developments to transform University City

University City is transforming from a sprawling suburb into an urban destination.

Why it matters: The budding area around UNC Charlotte is attracting first-time homebuyers and young professionals, who want city life and to pay a little less than other light rail neighborhoods like South End and NoDa.

  • Hundreds of apartments have popped up along the corridor since the Blue Line extension started running in 2018. 

Context: Rezoning requests are pending with the city for a 182-acre residential community with a school and park near North Tryon Street and almost 124 acres off University City Boulevard for industrial buildings.

  • Another sign the area is heating up? Chick-fil-A is opening another location, replacing the now-demoed Hardee’s next to the Harris Teeter.
  • UNC Charlotte, the second-largest university in the UNC system, has exceeded 30,000 students.

Yes, but: Developers with some of the most ambitious plans are awaiting better market conditions to break ground. When the time’s right, development in the area could explode.

What we’re watching: The six most notable developments in the University City area.

  • Of note: These projects are listed in no particular order; this is not a ranking. Also, this list does not include every construction project underway in the University City area.

The Green at University City

Courtesy of Cambridge Properties
Courtesy of Cambridge Properties

A mixed-use entertainment district called “The Green” is being built near Topgolf, the massive golf and dining venue that opened in 2021.

  • Plans include converting a 100,000-square-foot, early 1980s industrial building into multiple commercial and entertainment spaces. It’s called “The Mack” and will eventually have four to five tenants, including a large restaurant taking up about 5,000- to 6,000-square feet, with outdoor seating.
  • Cheer Athletics, a competitive youth training facility, and high-end golf shop PXG already opened their storefronts.
Courtesy of Cambridge Properties

There are 345 apartments also under construction at the site. There will be a structured parking deck, an amenity Cambridge Properties president Jay Priester says the market was not able to support just a couple of years ago.

  • “We’re very patient,” he tells Axios. “Instead of making quick decisions today, we’re really in it for the long haul to make sure that the right uses, the right blend of uses and the timing’s right.”
  • Once “The Mack” is fully leased, they’ll start adapting another adjacent 101,000-square-foot industrial building.

Who: Charlotte-based Cambridge Properties.

Where: About 60 acres in walking distance of University City Boulevard light rail station, close to Ikea.

Timeline: Residents will start to move into the apartments in a year.

The intrigue: More than $100 million has been invested in this project. It’s envisioned as University City’s entertainment district, a place where people can spend their evenings and weekends instead of traveling to Uptown, NoDa or South End.

  • In the future, Priester says Cambridge envisions replacing parking with small buildings as the area becomes less reliant on cars.

Mallard Pointe redevelopment

Cambridge Properties
District 1 of Mallard Pointe. Courtesy of Cambridge Properties
Mallard Pointe regional shopping center Cambridge Properties university city charlotte nc north carolina development student mainstreet street redevelopment Photo: Alexandria Sands/Axios
Mallard Pointe. Photo: Alexandria Sands/Axios

This Food Lion-anchored suburban shopping center, with its expansive surface parking lots, will be redeveloped into a high-density, mixed-use project.

  • The project’s first phase includes replacing the vacant Kohl’s with a six-story, 300-apartment building and ground-floor retail.

Who: Cambridge Properties.

Where: 16 acres at 9315 N Tryon St.

Timeline: Work on the first phase, approximately 4.5 acres, could start sometime in 2024, depending construction prices and interest rates. Once ground breaks, it may take two years to complete.

The intrigue: Given its location across from the university campus and near a popular light rail station, this redevelopment could create UNC Charlotte’s version of a college downtown.

  • Designers with the Congress for New Urbanism studied ways to give this existing redevelopment plan a college-town feel. One idea is to paint a large crosswalk with the university’s logo and colors on North Tryon, connecting UNC Charlotte and the shopping center. They also envisioned a “square” in the middle of the development, with a food pavilion, lawn area and space for events.

University City Regional Library at University Place

Conceptual designs courtesy of Mecklenburg County
Conceptual designs courtesy of Mecklenburg County

Mecklenburg County is planning a new, $40-million, roughly 35,000-square-foot, two-story library at University Place.

  • It will be next to local developer Crescent Communities’ new apartments called Novel University Place.

Of note: The library is part of a proposed walkable, waterfront community called Waters Edge along the lake, where Boardwalk Billy’s is, with offices, apartments and other uses. Developer EB Arrow announced plans for the project in 2019. Greg Watson of EB Arrow tells Axios the economy isn’t allowing for next phases to start yet, and their main focus is the library, a private-public partnership.

Waters Edge University City proposed plan
In 2019 Charlotte City Council approved a rezoning for EB Arrow’s plans for a 20.5-acre mixed-use walkable lakefront community called Waters Edge at University Place. Renderings courtesy of EB Arrow

Who: Texas-based EB Arrow and Charlotte Mecklenburg Library.

Where: Waters Edge Village Drive, less than a mile from the existing library and walkable to the JW Clay light rail station.

Timeline: The library is expected to open in early 2025, according to a county spokesperson.

The intrigue: University City’s library is one of the most visited in the system, and the new location will be the largest regional library in the county, excluding the Uptown campus.

Union at Tryon

A 200-unit affordable apartment complex will be for households making up to 60% of the area median income. It will have studios and one-, two- and three-bedroom units.

Union at Tryon
Courtesy of The Annex Group
  • Amenities include a community center, business center, gym, playground, walking trails, outdoor grilling area and community gardens.

Who: Indiana-based The Annex Group.

  • INLIVIAN is the project’s bond issuer, providing $20.8 million.
  • The project is also eligible for up to $3.8 million in Housing Trust Fund allocations from the city.

Where: More than 7 acres off North Tryon Street, behind Discount Tire and Zips Car Wash.

Timeline: Construction is underway and on track for early 2025 move-ins.

The intrigue: Rent was anticipated to start at $900 a month for a one bedroom and around $1,350 for a three bedroom as of the project’s announcement, as WCNC reported last year. The average rent in the Charlotte metro area currently is around $1,500.

Optima Mallard Creek

This mixed-use development will consist of 341 luxury multi-family units, 56 for-rent townhomes, and ground-floor retail, office and commercial space, creating a “main street” feel, according to the developer.

Courtesy of Flournoy Properties
Courtesy of Flournoy Properties
  • There will be a bike storage center, cold brew and beer on tap, large green space, dog parks and a pool.

Who: Flournoy Development Group, from Georgia, and national real estate company GID.

Where: About 25 acres of West Mallard Creek Church Road.

Optima Mallard Creek
Courtesy of Flournoy Properties

Timeline: Construction is underway. Move-ins will start in August, and townhomes could be complete by early winter 2023.

Centene

This 800,000-square-foot office complex is for sale.

Rendering of Centene's campus near UNC Charlotte
Courtesy of Centene
  • It was supposed to be the East Coast headquarters and tech hub for Centene. But the health insurance company called off plans to expand into North Carolina almost a year ago now as many of its employees continue to work remotely.

Who: Centene.

Where: 2405 Governor Hunt Road.

Timeline: Construction, which started in 2020, still was weeks away from completion when Centene announced it was canceling its move. As of then, Cushman & Wakefield was working with Centene to market and find a new owner for the campus, according to Charlotte Business Journal.

  • Cushman & Wakefield declined to comment for this story.

The intrigue: When Centene revealed its plans to open a $1-billion Charlotte campus, it was the biggest single jobs announcement in the state’s history. Now it’s unclear who will be interested in a site that was tailor-made for the health insurance giant.

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