WCU purchases commercial area known as Cullowhee business district

The downtown Cullowhee business district.

The downtown Cullowhee business district.

Western Carolina University is now the proud owner of the strip of commercial property known locally as the downtown Cullowhee business district.

The property on Centennial Drive contains 2.18 acres and includes the buildings that currently house Subway, Cat Chow, Mad Batter, Bob’s Mini Mart, Simply T’s, Hair Station and the State Employees’ Credit Union automated teller machine.

The university purchased the tract from EFMB Properties Inc. earlier this month because of the property’s strategic location in the middle of campus, said Chuck Wooten, WCU vice chancellor for administration and finance. The change in ownership, however, does not reflect a change in the property’s status as a business district.

“It is our desire to see commercial shops remain in the area, and we anticipate that all of the existing merchants will remain,” Wooten said. “We met with the commercial tenants prior to Christmas to emphasize our desire for them to be on campus as tenants of the university, and discussions are under way about new lease agreements for these commercial tenants.”

The property also contains six two-bedroom apartments, which are located above the commercial businesses. “These will be occupied by the current tenants for the spring semester, but in all likelihood they will not be occupied beyond the end of the semester,” Wooten said.

The purchase price of $1,585,000 was established through a market appraisal performed by an independent commercial real estate appraiser using industry-standard valuation methods.

The university’s short-term objectives for its latest addition to campus include painting the exteriors of the buildings, cleaning up around the strip of businesses, looking at the relocation of large trash containers at the rear of the complex, and improving parking for customers and employees.

“Our long-term goal is to redevelop the entire area from the Wachovia Bank building to the Centennial Park,” Wooten said. “We want commercial businesses to have a presence in this area of the campus, and new building plans all across campus will have space for commercial businesses.”

The purchase of the property and the continued operation of the businesses are in keeping with the university’s plans for development of 344 acres of property west of N.C. Highway 107 and part of its existing campus through the Millennial Initiative, an ambitious and comprehensive regional economic improvement strategy that will enable WCU to partner with business, industry and government.

Western intends to create multiple-use neighborhoods at key locations that will become home to a mix of academic buildings, research facilities, business, industry and housing. Those plans include development of “town centers” where restaurants, coffee shops, retail stores and other businesses would provide services to help keep students on campus and attract visitors. The recently purchased Cullowhee business district is not intended to become one of those town centers, Wooten said.