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UAH campus expansion plans will create a ‘college town’ experience

Plans by the University of Alabama in Huntsville to help create a “college town” experience are one step closer toward becoming a reality following the Huntsville City Council’s approval of the demolition of what has been a former office park on the eastern edge of Cummings Research Park.

The university purchased the largely vacant 58-acre business park in 2017 for $7.1 million. The mixed-use project is adjacent to the UAH campus across Sparkman Drive from the Bevill Center. A conceptual master plan for the property was approved by the University of Alabama Board of Trustees in 2019. UAH will pay $2 million to the city of Huntsville to clear the property. That work is expected to get under way in a matter of weeks.

The goal of the master plan is to transition this property into a new district oriented toward the life of students, faculty and staff outside of the classroom. Ultimately, it could be similar to spots at other campuses in the state – such as The Strip at the University of Alabama or Toomer’s Corner at Auburn University.

UAH has become more of a traditional university in recent years, with a sharp increase of full-time students enrolled and increasing numbers choosing to live on campus. That makes the timing of the development ideal, say university officials.

According to a survey of students, faculty and staff included in UAH’s master plan, students said they viewed the development as “a place that they would live multiple years during their college experience.”

UAH is in the early planning phase and is considering several options for the space, all of which would enhance academic and student life at UAH. Once a plan has been formalized, it will be subject to approval by the Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama System.

  • The plan for the new campus expansion is to provide additional housing and lifestyle amenities, such as dining, entertainment, events, outdoor recreation, and a conference center and hotel as well as a small grocery store. Features of the development, which would largely be paid for by private developers, could include:
    Walkable Housing Options: A robust offering of student housing options that provides campus-adjacent living
  • College Town Vibe: A lively cluster of student-focused retail, food, and beverage options that builds the college town experience
  • Collaboration Ready: Providing office space for the Huntsville’s private sector, the district can increase collaboration and offer world-class job opportunities for students
  • Talent Acquisition: Enhanced recruiting and retention of the most talented students and faculty from around the world

Highlights of the plan include an elevated pedestrian bridge across Sparkman Drive to provide easier access to the development. The plan also calls for housing for 800 students as well as 170,000 square feet of ground floor commercial retail development. Another 3.5 acres would be preserved for parks and open spaces.

Ray Garner is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News.

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