The University of Central Arkansas in Conway is working on plans to renovate a mile-long section of Donaghey Avenue.
The crown jewel of the proposed project is an approximately 68,000-SF, four-story mixed-use building that will feature retail on the ground floor and student housing on floors 2 through 4, said Wesley Walls, a principal at Polk Stanley Wilcox Architects of Little Rock, who is designing the building.
“I think this is really a grand opportunity to help define what UCA will mean in the 21st century and its relationship with Conway,” Walls said. “It will be a landmark building.”
UCA President Tom Courtway told Arkansas Business last week that the project is “still very early” in development. Its first hurdle will be approval from UCA’s board of trustees, he said.
“I can’t tell you when we’re going to take it to the board,” Courtway said. “I don’t think it will be before the end of this semester.”
He also said that he didn’t have an estimated cost for the building or a timeline for when construction could start on the two-block section between South Boulevard and Bruce Street.
The vision for the project on the three-lane thoroughfare is to “create a street life that really promotes better social interaction between students and the city we live in,” said T.J. Johnston, UCA’s director of special university projects.
Courtway said the project is necessary to add student housing to the campus, which is desperately needed. In the fall, capacity reached more than 100 percent, he said. To help meet the demand of nearly 3,600 students who wanted to live on campus, UCA transformed what were single rooms into double rooms.
But converting rooms is a short-term solution to a long-term problem, Courtway said. The campus is seeing more students. In the fall, UCA had 11,534 students, up about 400 students from the fall of 2012, he said.
The idea for adding more housing had been discussed for years, Courtway said. Because Donaghey Avenue is one of the few places where UCA can grow, he said, the discussion turned to “what should be the future of the street.”
Other universities around the country have been successful at having mixed-use development for their student housing, he said.
The draft for the project shows the three floors of student housing will have single and double rooms with a total of about 160 beds, said Diane Newton, UCA’s vice president of finance and administration.
Other details that need to be worked out include what retail venture will go on the ground floor and if UCA will be the property manager, Courtway said.
UCA is also working with the city on a streetscape plan for Donaghey along the one-mile stretch between Dave Ward Drive and College Avenue, including improved medians, roundabouts and landscaping. But that project also is in the early stages, Johnston said.
That section of tree-lined Donaghey currently has the UCA campus on the west side and some apartments and a few businesses on the east.
Courtway said if the improvement projects get the green light, “we believe it will be a very significant draw for prospective students. We believe it will be a development that will essentially transform this part of Conway as well as our campus.”