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WVU to build $70M Sunnyside complex

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia University officials on Friday announced plans to work with a private company and build a $70 million residential and retail complex in Morgantown's Sunnyside district, a few blocks from the Downtown Campus.

The project will provide nearly 1,000 more beds for WVU students and will include two multi-story buildings on three acres, plus community outdoor space and parking facilities, university officials said.

In addition to 297,000 square feet of rentable space and 268,000 square feet of "student space," the complex will include a full-service grocery store, a substation for university police, a fitness center and a restaurant, according to a news release from WVU.

Before work can be done on the new development -- to be called University Place and projected to be finished by the fall of 2014 -- tenants now within the project's boundaries will have to move out by late December or early January, according to a WVU news release.

That includes students and nonstudent residents living on parts of University Avenue, Grant Avenue, Third Street and Houston Drive.

"We will work with each and every individual student to make sure they have an opportunity to find acceptable housing. We have a lot of options on and off campus," said Narvel Weese, WVU's vice president of administration and finance.

The university will absorb any moving fees, and students who move will have the option to pay the rental amount from their old homes regardless of their new residence, according to Weese. WVU will pay the difference.

"Our goal is to make this as seamless and as less stressful as possible for students," Weese said. "Quite frankly, if you look at Sunnyside, almost anything available would be an upgrade. The bottom line is, we're taking care of our students."

WVU Housing Director Corey Farris said no students would be forced to move.

Zach Redding, WVU's student body president, voted to approve the project earlier this week at the WVU Board of Governors meeting. He said Friday that while he sees the benefits of the project, he thinks students living in the Sunnyside district have been caught off guard.

 "I see a great opportunity for expansion and change. With that said, change is never easy, and there will be some speed bumps during this process. Today, residents of Sunnyside found out that they would need to move by December of this year," Redding said. "I think, out of fairness, they should have been notified earlier, therefore giving them a greater opportunity to make plans and situate themselves for the rest of the year."

The new project will "help fulfill the university's strategic housing master plan, which addresses the need for additional beds for international, professional and veteran students," plus the growing freshmen and sophomore classes, according to WVU.

Bill Hutchens, WVU's general counsel, said the development would turn around the Sunnyside district, a longtime hotspot for post-game riots and street fires.

"We're demolishing really rundown, poorly conditioned housing and bringing in a very large, upscale complex for student housing that's cutting edge and modern," Hutchens said. "WVU will manage the property just as it does other housing facilities. If you look at other clusters of housing around town where students live, they don't have the problems Sunnyside does. A change in environment, in and of itself, is going to turn this place around."

Townhouses also are planned and will feature a pedestrian-only streetscape between them and the main two buildings.

Grimm and Parker Architects of Calverton, Md., were selected by the developers to design this mixed-use complex based on experience with other higher-education and student-housing initiatives.

WVU and a private firm, Paradigm Development Group LLC, reached the agreement in May, but state lawmakers didn't learn about it until last month. The first time most WVU students, staff and Morgantown residents knew about any of the plan was when the land purchase was revealed this week. Many students found out through an email Friday morning.

Hutchens said that because Paradigm approached WVU about the deal, the plans were kept quiet.

"This deal came to us. Paradigm was already putting this together, and they came to us with the proposition, and we went from there. Because we were doing a very large and complicated transaction with a private entity, of course it was confidential," he said.

"There is nothing unusual about this. This is a perfectly acceptable course of business with a private firm. We didn't go out on the streets and advertise this project."

The project is expected to generate $1.5 million in construction-related business and occupation taxes in its initial phase, according to Weese.

Additional taxes, related to student housing and retail rents for the city, also are expected, as well as income for the city from other businesses that might locate in the neighborhood because of retail amenities included in the WVU project, according to a release.

University officials will begin contacting students and other tenants immediately to offer alternative housing options and assistance with moving. Students are advised to call 304-293-5555 for housing information and assistance.

Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.mays@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.


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