A full-service restaurant, an outdoor equipment outfitter, a combination bookstore and coffee cafe, a popular convenience store and a nationally known sandwich shop are among the expected occupants of Noble Hall, the mixed-use facility being constructed on the site of a structure damaged by fire in 2013 at Western Carolina University.
Signed lease contracts are in hand for three out of five business tenants of the facility, said Mary Ann Lochner, WCU’s legal counsel. They are a new convenience store to replace the iconic Bob’s Mini-Mart, an upgraded Subway sandwich restaurant and a Cullowhee outpost for the Sylva-based Blackrock Outdoor Co.
Negotiations are still in progress for the building’s anchor establishment, a restaurant that would be operated by Aramark (WCU’s food service provider), and for the combined bookstore and coffee shop, Lochner said.
“We are pleased that we are able to bring back at least two of the original business owners from the old commercial strip on Centennial Drive, with Bob Hooper of Bob’s Mini-Mart and local Subway owner Scott Welch,” she said. “And we are glad to be able to welcome a new local business, as Blackrock Outdoor Co. will be a great fit on a campus that is home to the top outdoor adventure school in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic.”
Construction is well underway on the 120,000-square-foot building that will feature a mix of residential units and commercial and dining establishments on the ground floor with student residential spaces on the upper floors. The facility will include a total of about 420 student beds. Work began last spring, and the building is expected to be completed in time for the opening of the 2016 fall semester in August.
The building, which will consist of three segments, is named Noble Hall in honor of the Noble Nine, the group of nine trustees from the late 1800s who were instrumental in the development of the school that evolved into WCU.
The yet-to-be-announced restaurant, with seating capacity for about 200 people, will be located in 4,197 square feet of the building’s east end toward Central Drive. The establishment will be adjacent to a patio providing outdoor dining options. Blackrock Outdoor will occupy about 1,615 square feet of retail space beside the restaurant.
Three retail establishments will be located in the building’s middle section – the convenience store in 2,197 square feet of space, the 1,595-square-foot Subway, and the 2,037-square-foot bookstore and coffee shop. The west end of the building, located toward the Central Plaza and fountain area, will feature student housing on the ground floor and upper floors.
Although construction of the mixed-use facility was an element of the university’s master plan, it was originally envisioned as a project that would not see the light of day for several years. That changed when fire broke out in the morning hours of Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013, severely damaging three restaurants on the ground floor of the two-story structure – a Subway sandwich shop, Rolling Stone Burrito, and Mad Batter Bakery and Cafe.
The second story of the building, which had contained apartments until several years ago, was unoccupied. The section of the building that housed Bob’s Mini Mart was not damaged, nor were other nearby commercial properties.
Owners of the affected businesses and other existing establishments along the commercial strip were afforded the right of first refusal for commercial space in the new building.
The building damaged by the fire was formerly the site of the Townhouse restaurant, a longtime campus landmark and popular gathering place for students, faculty and staff from the late 1940s to the mid-1980s.
The Board of Trustees of the Endowment Fund, owner of the property, decided in February 2014 against replacing or repairing the structure after reviewing cost estimates, tax assessments and anticipated insurance settlement proceeds, choosing instead to proceed with demolition of the property followed by private development of a new mixed-use facility on the site.
The board weighed factors such as the historic significance of the property to the campus community, the contributions to WCU culture made by private businesses operating in the center of campus, and ongoing support by members of the campus community for owners and employees of the affected businesses.
An independent architectural and engineering firm estimated the cost to replace or repair the damaged building, including additional expenses associated with bringing a structure originally built in the 1940s up to current building codes, would be more than $1.5 million. According to Jackson County records, the tax value of the structure was assessed at $254,430.
RISE: A Real Estate Company (formerly Ambling University Development Group), selected by the Endowment Fund to develop the new mixed-use facility, conducted market research to determine what commercial interests would be successful in the new building.