With its lease set to expire in two years, the University City Regional Library will need a new home before the end of 2022.
But where to put it?
University City Partners, a nonprofit that promotes economic development in the University City area, along with some community members, are advocating for a spot inside the proposed Water’s Edge at University Place — a 20.56-acre, mixed-use development that will combine commercial, retail and residential space.
Developer EB Arrow announced the project after buying the property, adjacent to the Shoppes at University Place, for about $18.2 million in 2019. The project is proposed to include shops and restaurants, a 182,000-square-foot office building, upscale apartments and a 2.5-acre waterfront park.
If proponents get their way, University City’s new 40,000-square-foot library would be located there, too. The proposed two-story structure would be nearly twice the size of the current library at 301 East W.T. Harris Boulevard.
Why it matters: With a population of about 160,000 people, University City has been one of Charlotte’s fasting-growing neighborhoods. It’s also home to a large, middle-class Black community.
The proposed location for the new library is an easy walk from the J.W. Clay Boulevard Station on the Lynx Blue Line. It’s also near the Barton Creek Greenway.
Darlene Heater, executive director of University City Partners, said the organization has worked to help identify potential locations for the new library. She said it wasn’t until University City Partners did a master plan for the J.W. Clay Boulevard Station in 2015 that they realized a library could be located near the lakefront.
“Most of our community comes to the boardwalk and lakefront as a place to recreate and dine, so we should put our library there where everybody is anyway,” Heater said. “It’ll be visible and in their face everyday.”
Heater said a priority for University City Partners is to create spaces that are welcoming to everyone, including those who lack economic means and access to technology.
Wendy Mateo-Pascual, executive director and co-founder of the nonprofit Camino Community Center, said relocating the library to a central location like Water’s Edge would improve access for all University City residents, including job seekers who depend on public libraries for internet access.
In a 2020 report, the American Library Association said that 46% of low-income households don’t have computers, so creating “equitable access” to library resources is one of the organization’s primary goals.
“I think it’s important for University City, Mecklenburg (County) and Charlotte in general that we have a library in place that minority communities can access and feel welcomed utilizing,” Mateo-Pascual said.
Not a done deal
George Dunlap, chairman of the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners, told QCIty Metro he’s not sure where the new library will go. The county has identified other potential properties if negotiations with EB Arrow fall through, he said.
Dunlap declined to give specifics, saying the county does not publicly discuss land deals that are subject to negotiations. He did say, however, that some of the potential properties are County owned.
Dunlap said he understands that the community has preferences, but county commissioners can’t overspend, he said, noting that other parts of the county also have needs.
In addition to relocating the University City library, the county also is working on an ambitious plan to redevelop 1.5 blocks in uptown Charlotte, including the county’s Main Library and the nearby Spirit Square. The new state-of-the-art Main Library is expected to be five-stories, 115,000-square-feet and cost $100 million to build.
Dunlap said money for the University City library isn’t an issue. And although the county will pick up the tab, he said the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library Board of Trustees will make the final decision on the library’s new location.
“We (county commissioners) are just the funders of the library,” he said.
Brandon Neal, the library board’s vice chair, said the board is in talks with county officials to find a new home for the University City library. Once a location is identified, he said, the board will approve a plan. No timeline has been set for the board’s decision, Ann Stawski, a library spokeswoman, said.
Because the University City branch is the second most active location in the county’s library system, Neal said he understands the importance of keeping its presence in the University area.
“This branch serves a diverse population in an area with high growth,” he said, “and we are proud to provide free and equitable access for programs, services, resources and outreach.”
The current library sits on land leased from Atrium Health in 1990. Since then, University City has grown astronomically. The area’s population grew by 8,418 people in 2020 and by 12,099 in 2019, according to data from University City Partners.