‘Transformative’ project begins – The Daily Relfector

Tom Taft, center, and Jim Ward, right, talk with Jeff Glenn during a groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of a million dollar renovation project near the intersection Evans Street and Reade Circle on Tuesday morning. (Rhett Butler/The Daily Reflector)

Tom Taft, center, and Jim Ward, right, talk with Jeff Glenn during a groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of a million dollar renovation project near the intersection Evans Street and Reade Circle on Tuesday morning. (Rhett Butler/The Daily Reflector)

By Michael Abramowitz

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

East Carolina University students will have a new choice for housing in 2015 that mixes apartments with retail space.

Area dignitaries joined developers Tom Taft Sr. and Jim Ward on Tuesday to break ground on a private 425,000-square-foot, mixed-use student housing and retail building adjacent to the ECU campus at the corner of Reade Circle and Dickinson Avenue in downtown Greenville. The four-story complex will feature state-of-the art technology geared toward helping students manage classwork and social networking, and other amenities in 245 apartments ranging from studio size to four bedrooms, the developers said.

City and county leaders, used words like “transformative” to describe the project’s expected effect in downtown Greenville. Redeveloping the area is a major goal of the City Council. 

On-site amenities

The $42 million project will include a swimming pool, gym, volleyball court, yoga space and 4,000 square feet of glass-enclosed study areas.

A “chat pool” filled with less than a foot of water will accommodate chairs in which residents can relax and spend time between work and studies.

A parking deck will provide 400 spaces for residents and another 29 to the public, who will be able to shop at several retail outlets on the premises or sit at outdoor cafes on 10-foot-wide sidewalks, the developers said.

“We’re really excited about this,” said Mike McCarty, development director for Taft Family Offices, the company building the facility. “We’ve been trying for seven years to get this project off the ground.”

Slated for completion in 2015, the housing development is a collaboration between Taft and Ward, who hosted Tuesday’s ceremony.

“This project is only the beginning of what is going to happen here, transforming Greenville and Pitt County into a more workable, livable and sustainable cosmopolitan community,” Taft said.

Ward said the project has been a tough journey, but he is excited to be at this point.

“We decided to put our self-interest aside and work on a project that would be right for our city, county and university, but most of all for the many students in the years to come that will make this facility their home,” Ward said.

The facility will not be limited to students, but is clearly designed and appointed for them. The building’s architectural concept was pieced together from features the development group gathered from student living projects and apartment conferences held throughout the country, McCarty said.

The side of the building facing Reade Circle will house about 11,500 square feet of retail space.

“We’ve done a little bit of everything,” McCarty said. “It’s not going to be something that just Greenville students would want, but what any student anywhere would think is great. Combined with the location, situated at the edge of the campus adjacent to the downtown community, this will be the finest student housing facility in the country.”

ECU Chancellor Steve Ballard said he was impressed by the balanced approach to student living the developers are working to achieve.

“All the data show that students in their first two years do a lot better if they live on or very near the campus,” Ballard said. “Students choose schools in part because of recreational activities and housing amenities. This will attract students and keep them here.”

Greenville City Manager Barbara Lipscomb said the project is a perfect match with the city’s downtown concept.

“We saw a lot of public elements, including a streetscape and parking garage that are important investments to improve the city’s downtown look,” Lipscomb said. “We were able to offer economic incentives, so when the project is completed and the building goes on the tax roll, we will be able to rebate some of their taxes. That was a piece that they really needed to make this happen.”

McCarty said Pitt County offered similar and equally important tax incentives for the project’s development.

“The public should know how refreshing it was to see the city and county come together to produce the capital grants that were so important to us,” McCarty said.

Pitt County Commission Chairman Jimmy Garris said the project is valuable to the county and city.

“I really appreciate this expression of commitment to their community by Mr. Taft and Mr. Ward with their investment in this project,” Garris said.

Greenville City Council member Calvin Mercer gave his support to the project.

“It’s vertical, walkable and bikeable, and builds up our center city rather than sprawling out into the county,” Mercer said. “That’s exactly the kind of growth we need.”

Councilwoman Marion Blackburn agreed with Mercer about the building’s architecture and location.

“A compact urban project like this, with apartments and retail together, creates a sense of energy and activity that’s just what we want to see in our downtown and in our city,” Blackburn said.

Greenville Mayor Allen Thomas said he sees the student housing project as a catalyst that would stir more growth in the city.

“It represents a new policy of … working together to create good investments that are worth their risks,” Thomas said. “If you leave the city and return in two years, you’ll be blown away by the progress made in the heart of this city.”


Contact Michael Abramowitz at mabramowitz@reflector.com or 252-329-9571.