At a town hall style meeting on April the 5th, the team from the urban development firm Perkins and Wills tasked with planning the development of Executive Plaza unveiled their master plan for the property. The ambitious plan would completely transform the sixty acre parcel of land, located across from the Bevill Center, from a strip of vacant 1970s-era office buildings into a modern mixed residential and retail district.
UAH purchased the Executive Plaza property in 2017 to allow for “future campus expansion and possibly the evolution of a college town neighborhood” according to UAH’s 2017 Annual Report. Currently, the area around UAH lacks many safely accessible restaurants, shops, or other amenities that promote the typical collegiate town type atmosphere that plays a huge role in shaping a student’s experience at many other universities. The proposed master plan would more than fill this need, adding a completely new element to campus life at UAH.
The plan is centered around the two existing ponds in the middle of the Executive Plaza property. Although currently overgrown and unsightly, the master plan envisions these ponds as becoming the focal points for the two distinct regions that will make up the new development: the southernmost pond will form the centerpiece of a community park that maintains a natural, peaceful environment for people to enjoy, while the northernmost pond will be transformed into a open gathering place separating proposed retail and residential space from a state of the art multi purpose building, featuring both a hockey arena and a large auditorium.
The proposed residential and retail area will feature a continuation of the current campus greenway system. The planners from Perkins and Will highlighted that a characteristic of most similar collegiate developments is a long single street lined with shops catering to students and the public that features a central gathering place. Their plan features a street of this sort that runs through several blocks of retail space with apartments on the upper floors before eventually passing through the central park area.
Based off of a survey taken by the student body, however, the planners found that the majority of UAH students get around campus by walking. To ensure that this would remain possible, the master plan imagines the current campus greenway being continued to a point around Morton Hall, where it will smoothly be integrated into an impressive pedestrian bridge across Sparkman Ave. The other side of the bridge would intersect the second floor of a expansive University-owned building, possibly similar in use or architecture to the current Charger Union, and eventually will descend back to street level, creating a “canyon type experience” as described by the planners meant to be the centerpiece of the retail area.
While the master plan laid out at the meeting was detailed and impressive in scope, the planners emphasized that one of the major factors in both creating the master plan, and making future modifications to it, is the economic and fiscal side of the plan. Changes to the plan can still be expected based off of input from the University and further study into the economic viability of the project. The meeting only focused on presenting the master plan and did not offer specifics about the timeline of the project or its possible cost breakdown. Specific information about this will become available as the planning process continues to move along.
The full master plan can be found at https://www.uah.edu/images/administrative/president/executive-plaza-townhall-master-plan.pdf