by Jeff Sykes

Union Square Campus project taking shape | @jeffreysykes

One of the South Elm Development Group’s partners updated city planners on the Union Square Campus’s technical aspects last week, including giving those present a glimpse of architectural drawings.

Bob Isner told members of Greensboro’s Redevelopment Commission that the drawings are a step toward allowing developers to begin finding tenants.

“For marketing the site it gives us great credibility now,” Isner said. “We don’t see any problems with their design. That sure is going to change the landscape of the south side of downtown.”

Commission Chair Dawn Chaney asked Isner if the Union Square Campus Inc. leaders had taken into account the expressed desire to extend historic facades south of Lee Street.

“I’m not saying anything negative about this. I like it,” Chaney said, but noted the original design could set the tone for redevelopment as it heads south toward Bragg Street.

Isner told commission members that architect Ken Mayer, of Moser Mayer Phoenix, and USCI wanted a more modern look.

“It’s in the design guidelines,” Isner said. “I kind of like for the styles to be mixed up … It makes it look like the city has evolved rather than put there.”

The initial building shown will be four stories exceeding 100,000 total square feet. Isner said floor plans would be released soon and would include two auditoriums for teaching and two retail spaces. One retail space at the corner of South Elm and Lee would be ideal for a FedEx/Kinkos type business to cater to the tenant’s needs. A second space down South Elm Street would fit the needs of a restaurant such as Panera Bread, Isner said.

“I think that would be a good mix,” Isner said. “It’s going to be shell space and we can now begin marketing the facility.”

Dyan Arkin, senior planner with the city’s planning department, said the exterior drawing had been approved by the Union Square Campus Inc.’s board and that both USCI and South Elm Development Group planned a public meeting in the near future.

The architect’s drawings are the latest development in the transformative project community leaders hope comes together on the seven acre site pieced together by the Redevelopment Commission. The Union Square Campus component is the first piece of the development to gain serious momentum.

The Redevelopment Commission owns the entire site and has entered into an agreement with SEDG as master developer. SEDG’s main goal is to find sub-developers for four separate components – housing, commercial, parking and the Union Square Campus, which serves the educational piece of the project.

Community organizations have pledged about $6 million toward the estimated $40 million cost of the Union Square Campus. The project, which envisions a unified campus among Cone Health, NC A&T State University, UNCG and GTCC, will include a healthcare training facility, in addition to office and classroom space.

The project grew from an economic development initiative spearheaded by Opportunity Greensboro. John Merrill, the executive director for Gateway University Research Park, said the Union Square Campus concept allows the partners to achieve something out of the ordinary.

“The whole concept for the project is that it is a 110,000 square foot facility that has a significant simulation capacity to share access to high level training space,” Merrill said. “That really allows us to build something bigger and better than what each campus could do on its own.”

Merrill said that when completed the Union Square Campus could be occupied for educational purposes six days a week, for up to 12 hours a day. Each partner would have access to their own offices, while classroom and simulation space would be shared according to each program’s needs.

To facilitate the joint effort, Merrill said a new non-profit entity was created. Union Square Campus Inc. will eventually own this component of the project, expected to occupy between 1.25 to 2 acres of the entire development area.

The Union Square Campus received another boost last week when Gov. Pat McCrory signed the state budget. Lawmakers included $2 million allocated to the UNC Board of Governors to go specifically to the project.

Another boost backers of the Union Square Campus are seeking is for the Redevelopment Commission to get approval to give them the land for the project at no cost. Isner, of South Elm Development Group, told commission members at last week’s meeting that plans had been in place to convey the land to USCI this month, but that those plans had been put on hold. Isner said USCI was more focused on finalizing design plans and were not in a rush to take possession of the land.

Merrill disagreed with that slightly, saying that they were working through the process with the city. Merrill said they had approached city council with the idea, and that it would have to be approved by the commission and then the city council. USCI’s timetable calls for construction to begin in March 2015.

“That would help us get the project off the ground,” Merrill said. “We’ve been out doing a lot of fundraising to make this happen. That would be a big piece to make it affordable for all four users to do this. It’s a significant step forward for the development of that particular site.”

Another boost could come in the form of a $3 million grant from the federal Economic Development Agency.

City planners had applied for an EDA grant for infrastructure work at the site, but that application was denied. Staff told the Redevelopment Commission last week that USCI will take the lead on a new grant application.

Arkin, with the city’s planning department, said staff received valuable feedback from that experience and has developed a new plan of attack, with USCI taking the lead and pushing a more compatible set of uses in the grant application.

Arkin said the EDA was not convinced within its requirements for job creation that paying for infrastructure work at the site was a good fit. Merrill said USCI would work with the city to craft a more successful grant application, which is due by mid-October.

“We thought the job numbers were pretty good for what we proposed,” Merrill said. “So that is one of the things that we want to get some clarification on.” !