West Virginia University expects to begin operating a new, more than $30 million building next school year that will house restaurants for students on its Evansdale campus in Morgantown, become the new home for several important university offices and host the estimated $2.5 million Media Innovation Center.
Corissa Greer, marketing and communications manager for WVU’s real estate department, said the five-floor, 100,000-square-foot Evansdale Crossing structure began construction a year ago through a partnership between WVU and a private, Nashville-based developer called Fresh Hospitality. Fresh Hospitality is funding construction, and WVU will be one of the tenants.
The new building sits beside the Student Recreation Center.
Greer said the lease contract is for 40 years, with “mutual options” to renew for another decade; officials said they didn’t yet know what WVU’s annual rent will be. She said the school recently publicized the development as part of a project by Reed College of Media seniors, who created a virtual tour of the building and held a “sneak peak” event Friday for select individuals including members of WVU’s student government.
Dan Simpson, Fresh Hospitality’s managing partner for the project, said the university will be renting the second through fourth floors and hopes to be fully operating in its space by the spring semester. Simpson said he hopes to open up some or all of the restaurants earlier in October, starting with the rooftop amenities: the I Love Juice Bar and the Octane Lounge, which will serve wine and beer on tap.
The other restaurants Fresh Hospitality will operate — in partnership with the chefs it works with, Simpson said — will include Collo Rosso Pizza, Hugh Baby’s Burgers & BBQ, Little Donkey’s Tacos and Taziki’s Mediterranean Café.
Greer said the building will also have a bank and a 13,000-square-foot, two-story Barnes & Noble bookstore. WVU will be responsible only for its leased space and the bookstore, while Fresh Hospitality is responsible for the rest.
Greer said there’s no good current place for students to eat and socialize on the Evansdale campus, which is about two miles from WVU’s central Morgantown location and holds the bulk of classes for students in fields like engineering, health science and agriculture.
“We hate calling it a student union because it’s not really that,” Greer said. “But it’s definitely a place where students on the Evansdale campus can meet one another.”
Simpson referred to the building as a “grand central station.”
“With any luck, it’s going to be the place to be when you’re not in class,” he said.
The building will become the new home of WVU’s registrar, financial aid and student accounts offices. Though this will distance these departments from WVU’s downtown-based students, Robert Moyer, WVU’s director of facilities planning and scheduling, said the move will give the offices more room and centralize them at a space with easy-to-access parking and a connection to the university’s track-based Personal Rapid Transportation system at its Engineering stop.
“You don’t have to go to three different buildings and traverse the weather and try to find a parking space,” Moyer said. “It will be much easier.”
Moyer said the building is among the final projects in the first phase of redevelopment of WVU’s Evansdale campus. He said the redevelopment began four to five years ago, and will end with the spring 2016 completion of the university’s new agricultural sciences building.
An aim of the redevelopment was to make the Evansdale campus, built in the late 1960s, more pedestrian-friendly like the downtown campus, Moyer said. He said the Evansdale Crossing building is critical to that aim because it connects the upper-elevation part of the campus with the lower-elevation side.
Currently, students have to walk a long way to cross the tracks of the university’s Personal Rapid Transportation system, whose tracks currently bisect the Evansdale campus. Evansdale Crossing will also be directly connected to a PRT stop through a pedestrian bridge.
The main academic anchor of the building will be the Reed College of Media, which Greer said will be the main user of a new 100-seat and 30-seat classroom there. Evansdale Crossing will also hold the college’s 10,000-square-foot Media Innovation Center.
The more than $30 million anticipated cost of the building is only for the core structure and related costs like public spaces and utilities; the $2.5 million cost of the media center is separate, as are the university’s other “build-out” costs. Simpson said he doesn’t yet know what Fresh Hospitality’s costs will be to fill its levels with restaurant equipment and other final needs.
Maryanne Reed, dean of the media college, said WVU, private donors and dollars her college has raised through online and off-campus academic programs will fund creating the Media Innovation Center, which she said is a working title. It will be more than four times the size of the college’s Alexis and Jim Pugh Media Innovation Lab, which opened in the fall at the college’s traditional Martin Hall location downtown. She hopes the center will open by January.
“This is more of the same,” Reed said. “But a lot more of the same.”
The center will host multimedia studios, 3-dimensional printers, virtual reality technology and other amenities that Reed said will prepare students to enter the fast-changing media world and help the college aid the media industry directly. She called the center, where the college’s online staff will relocate, the “heart” of the college’s new programming.
“I believe it is symbolic of where the industry is headed and how we’re preparing students for that changing industry,” she said.
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