About 40 people gathered last Tuesday at Virginia State University (VSU) to hear recommendations from a panel of experts convened by the Urban Land Institute (ULI). ULI brings volunteers together, for 1.5 days, who are experts in real estate, finance, engineering and architecture to analyze and evaluate a land use or development challenge. For this TAP (Technical Assistance Panel), the panel was evaluating how VSU and Chesterfield County could maximize the impact of building a new convocation center on the campus. The 8,000 seat center is seen as a catalyst project to spur development in the village of Ettrick.
The panel stressed the opportunity to link the VSU campus to Ettrick, particularly Chesterfield Avenue. New development on the street could bring services that are currently lacking close to the university such as shopping, dining, and retail. A strong link could create a “college town” atmosphere that other universities enjoy.
The new center, expected to break ground this year and open fall 2015, will be an asset to attract students. It will bring thousands of people to VSU for concerts, sporting events, and tradeshows among other things. The county also sees it asa place in the southern end of the county on par with the Siegel Center in Richmond. The panel recommending capitalizing on the center by looking at community upgrades like enhancing roads, improving access to the Amtrak station, and building a hotel.
The panel also evaluated other community assets including an existing fire station and elementary school. Both were recommended for relocation. The panel saw the fire station building as an opportunity for a restaurant or housing. The 15 acre elementary school was recommended for housing for university students as VSU expects to grow from the current 6,000 students to 10,000 by 2020.
Traffic was a big issue that came up during the audience question period. The Matoaca district supervisor, Steve A. Elswick described improvements already planned by Chesterfield. This includes making River Road four lanes from the border at Colonial Heights to Chesterfield Avenue. Colonial Heights is also expected to expand Dupuy Road to three lanes. Pedestrian amenities were also recommended to connect the university and Chesterfield Avenue to decrease the number of cars on the roads.
Audience members also asked about the timetable for development and the university’s intentions for historic structures. Although the convocation center is planned and moving toward ground breaking, other development, will likely depend on private developers. Most of that work is still just an idea and a goal outlined in the county’s comprehensive plan. A tally of historical structures was done when VSU acquired funding from the General Assembly. A memorial exhibit in the convocation center will document the historic sites. Some buildings may be repurposed.
Anyone interested in the Panel’s work can read a full report on the ULIRichmond.com website in approximately 45 days.