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Johnson C. Smith University hopes to transform the Northwest Corridor

New construction not limited to university's 100-acre campus

Ronald Carter, president of Johnson C. Smith University since 2008, is a man with a mission: to transform the 145-year-old historically black college into “Charlotte’s premier independent urban university.”

And he comes across as an old-fashioned Southern preacher when he talks about his ambitious plans to make JCSU “a prominent small liberal arts institution on a par with some of the most highly regarded schools in the nation.”

The metamorphosis is not just about new programs, changing admissions policies and hiring new faculty. It’s about bricks and mortar, too. And the new construction is not limited to the university’s 100-acre campus on Beatties Ford Road.

Ronald Carter

Ronald Carter, president of Johnson C. Smith University, speaks at the April 15 groundbreaking for Mosaic Village, a mixed-use project that will include student housing and retail. Balfour Beatty and Shelco are the general contractors. Mecklenburg Times file photo

“Part of being an urban university is to help sustain the assets of our community,” Carter said. “And that means redeveloping Beatties Ford Road.”

To that end, two of JCSU’s four current construction projects are off campus on Beatties Ford Road, in an area also known as the Northwest Corridor. The two — a mixed-use development called Mosaic Village and the renovation of the historic 1890s-era George E. Davis House — join the new Arts Factory, a 14,000-square-foot facility that opened last year and features a dance studio, black box theater and other facilities for students majoring in visual and performing arts.

Mosaic Village, a 124,000-square-foot project, is being built at 1601 W. Trade St. It will feature 299 student-housing units, a 400-car parking deck, approximately 6,500 square feet of retail and a green roof. Each unit will feature a washer/dryer and kitchen. The apartments are expected to open this fall.

Charlotte-based Neighboring Concepts is the architect. London-based Balfour Beatty and Charlotte-based Shelco are the general contractors.

JCSU hopes the high-density housing will attract new businesses – such as a bank, pharmacy and fast-food restaurant – to cater to the student residents.

Mosaic Village, like the Arts Factory, sits on property owned by Griffin Brothers Cos. The Griffins are putting about $8 million into the project, while the university is spending roughly $18 million.

In further plans to redevelop the area, JCSU hopes to turn a nearby convenience store into a bookstore and add art under the Interstate 77 bridge. Many consider that site to be the entranceway to the Northwest Corridor.

A block away from the campus, on the other side of Beatties Ford, preliminary design work has started on the $850,000-renovation of Davis House. Neighboring Concepts is the architect. The house fell into disrepair and was close to be being condemned and razed by the city when a donation by Wells Fargo last year enabled the university to embark on the long-delayed project.

The building will be the first phase of the Foster Village Network Center, an initiative of Carter’s that will serve teenagers aging out of foster care.

To gain input from the residents of the Northwest Corridor, which encompasses 12 neighborhoods along Beatties Ford Road, about how they want to see the area developed, JCSU will host Saturday an “Indaba,” a community forum that is a common African tradition based on the principle of consensus.

Meanwhile, on the campus itself, the finishing touches are being put on the $1.1-million Healthplex, a 5,750-square-foot addition to the swimming pool building adjacent to Brayboy Gymnasium. Charlotte-based Hard Ratzlaff Construction was the general contractor.

Work will begin soon on the $5.5 million renovation of Duke Hall, a residence hall built in 1941. The three-story structure will be modernized and the configuration changed from dormitory style to suites, reducing the number of residents housed there from about 100 to 60 or so.

The university is using a design-build approach for the project. Tise-Keister Architects of Chapel Hill is the designer, and Calabash-based WB Properties & Construction is the general contractor. The project is slated for completion in spring 2013.

The project’s funding was made possible in October, when The Duke Endowment made a $35-million gift to JCSU.  It was the largest gift in the university’s history.

Earlier this year, JCSU completed $315,000 of work to make Grimes Lounge and Smith Hall more energy efficient. The funds were awarded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Lee Morgan was the construction manager.

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