The proposed Town Center to be built on Western’s campus has received both approval and criticism. If the plan goes through, a 22-acre Town Center will be constructed between the parking lot across from Cullowhee Creek and the Camp Building. The development will contain shops, restaurants, businesses, entertainment and possibly even condominiums for retired Alumni to come live in. All the buildings will be university-owned, but will be built by private developers who first negotiate with WCU on what will work, in terms of construction, and then the State for an overall price of what it will cost to build the town center. Chancellor John Bardo estimates that if approval were given, construction would begin in the next three to five years, earlier if the economy allowed.
The biggest reason Bardo gives for wanting to construct the town center is to give the students, faculty and community a central meeting place. Western is very much a daytime place, but at night the sidewalks are rolled up. Western Carolina University is one of the few campuses not located near a city. Living on a campus that does not have its own town leaves students with nothing to do. Bardo suggests that building a town center would be a great place for students and the community to go and hang out with friends. It would put an end to the problem of WCU students sitting in their dorm rooms wishing there was something to do.
In terms of creating an urban setting, Bardo does not think that creating the Town Center will be an impediment to those who prefer to keep the “small town” feel, but he believes it will make Western more appealing to those who would prefer a bigger setting. Every year numerous students leave the campus in search of a more urban location. Bardo strongly feels that the Town Center will increase student retention rates and will encourage more perspective students to come to WCU. In addition to helping attract and retain students to the campus, he hopes it will also encourage graduates to stay in the area and support the community. One of the ideas concerning architectural design is to have condominiums built above offices in the town center for Alumni who want to return and retire near the university.
Though the town center proposal has received much approval, it has by no means been praised by all. A lot of the criticism comes from the people who feel that Bardo is not keeping true to his mission of supporting the local economy. The small, locally-owned businesses in the community fear they could potentially be hurt by the corporate chains that are likely to lease space in the Town Center. Local businesses could relocate into the Town Center, but the price of renting space there is considerably higher than where they are now. Ultimately, the owners of small businesses fear they cannot compete with large retail corporations such as Barnes and Noble and many others that have been proposed as filling the new space.
(Look for continued coverage of the proposed Town Center in further issues of the Western Carolinian).