Economics and education may meet in a place affectionately referred to by WCU administration as the “town center.”
In 2006, administration presented the Millennial Initiative, which is a plan that includes new business activity on campus and major all-around growth. 344 acres were purchased in the same year for the purpose of the project. Academic and residential buildings are a part of this plan as well, but the major projected addition to Western’s campus is a town center.
The town center would be located on 22 acres that run from the Camp Building, which will be demolished, to the Ramsey Center. The current plan makes 270,000 square feet of residential and commercial space available. The town center would be home to a drive-in bank, movie theatre, restaurant, and numerous shops. The plan also includes a four-story parking deck with spaces for 871 vehicles.
The project was designed to bring economic growth to Cullowhee, make Western’s campus more attractive to prospective students, and to encourage students to become more active on campus.
Freshman Stephen Kent thinks that the town center is a great idea.
“I would stay more weekends and feel like I actually go to school in a civilized region,” said Kent. “It would provide some jobs and basic entertainment. Hurry it up!”
Chancellor Bardo has mentioned such commercial chains as Barnes and Noble and Moe’s Southwestern Grill. But the idea of major food service and retail chains moving to Cullowhee has some people very concerned. Zachary Rumble, a freshman majoring in Psychology, expresses that “something else to do wouldn’t be all that bad. I just don’t want rampant commercial expansion. Keep it limited.”
In an email to the Sylva Herald, English professor Catharine Carter voiced her concern for the small businesses that already provide services in Cullowhee. She anticipated the “possibility of WCU setting up chains in competition with unique local businesses.” She proposed making existing business the key concern, and allowing only commercial interests that offer different products and services than those already operating in Cullowhee. Local venues could be relocated to the new town center when it is completed, to give students a greater awareness and a closer proximity to their services.
Also in an interview with the Sylva Herald, Jeannette Evans, owner of the Mad Batter, expressed some interest in moving to the town center, along with concerns about costs.
“I would be interested in moving down to the town center-I’m not opposed to that. I get a little timid about what the rents are going to be.”
Carter wanted administration to understand that large chain developments would not be necessary to ensure Cullowhee’s success. “The constantly increasing success of downtown Asheville, which has (a lack of) chain businesses suggests that we don’t need to become Charlotte to be attractive, nor do we need to endanger our local businesses to keep up with the times.”
There have been no definite plans regarding the town center, and Western Carolina has made no commitment to any commercial business. Construction on the project may not begin for some time.
Despite faculty concerns about the project, the prospect of new business in Cullowhee is very exciting to many students. Many students gave very positive responses when asked how they felt about the possibility of a new town center.
Associate Provost Beth Tyson-Lofquist also provided an administrative perspective on the project.
In a statement to the Western Carolinian, she expressed her support of the town center. She said, “I am supportive of initiatives that meet our student’s needs as well as facilitate the relationship between the university and the community. I also understand that a town center could possibly attract and retain more students. As long as all constituents are in on the planning and development of the center-working together to bring it to fruition-I am supportive of the concept.”
As both the Quality Enhancement Program and the Millennial Initiative go into effect, Western struggles to grow while retaining the unique qualities that make this place home to students. While there is the potential for Western to lose some of its mountainous seclusion, the town center offers exciting possibilities for commerce and student leisure.