For 45 years, the Belk Tower has dutifully served as a hub of student activity on campus.
The tower is an integral part of UNC Charlotte’s culture and history. The Belk Tower is almost as iconic as the UNC Charlotte logo itself. Odds are that every student on campus has had some interaction with the Belk Tower.
Any student walking to class around noon has heard the UNC Charlotte fight song played from the tower, along with the bells that chime at the top of every hour. While the tower is too old to play the original bell that it was built with, it now uses an electronic Carillon to mimic the sound.
The 142-foot-tall tower reigns as a popular gathering place for students to relax, study, meet with friends, eat lunch or simply lay out and get a tan in between classes. Many student activities and events incorporate the Belk Tower in one way or another.
The Belk Tower is named after William Henry Belk, founder of Belk Department Store. The Belk family has been a huge supporter of UNC Charlotte, making several donations to UNC Charlotte over the decades, including the new Aperture Statue located next to Hechenbleikner Lake and the bronze football statues located outside Jerry Richardson Stadium.
Aside from being the most notable structure on campus, the area also functions as the free speech zone. Since its creation, the Belk Tower has been at the helm of students and community led vigils, protests and charity events.
Earlier in the year, during the 2015 spring semester, students held a vigil for an injured student. Hundreds of students gathered around Belk Tower as fraternity brothers raised awareness for the student’s condition and held fundraisers to help pay for his medical bills.
Roughly every year, the Belk Tower Plaza features destroyed cars depicting the possible consequences of drinking and driving. These cars act as a message to students about being responsible when drinking.
Last year, students gathered at the Belk Tower and marched to the Student Union during the Ferguson protests to raise awareness of police brutality in Ferguson, Mo.
Several student organizations united that day to make the march possible.
In 2012, flash mobs broke out around the Belk Tower. Hundreds of students rushed Belk Tower, bringing awareness to the oppression in Syria.
Looking back 40 years ago, the Belk Tower was the location of UNC Charlotte’s first International Festival.
The first International Festival was a small event that featured different boards containing information on other countries and nationalities.
In October, the International Festival Fun Days, events held to build excitement for the 40th International Festival, hosted their final Fun Day at the tower. It featured original boards from the 1975 IFest and international cuisine.
In the wake of the tower’s inevitable demolition, little information concerning the future of the free speech zone has been shared with the UNC Charlotte community.
“The ‘designated’ free speech zone will be determined from campus input provided in the public sessions and may be incorporated in the design of Belk Plaza,” said Associate Director for Media Relations Buffie Stephens. “The entire campus is subject to the exercise of free speech.”
Many students and alumni were outraged when they heard the news. Earlier in the semester UNC Charlotte Chancellor Philip Dubois released a statement explaining that, due to structural issues and a potential safety hazard, the Belk Tower would be dismantled over the winter break.
When students return from their break, the Belk Tower will be gone and construction for the new Belk Plaza underway.
Two months ago, in response to Dubois’s statement, students created petitions which garnered more than 800 signatures from students and alumni, urging the university to reconsider its current course of action. The petition supports the idea that, despite the $1 million cost, the Belk Tower should be remodeled or rebuilt, not just torn down.
A passage taken from the petition’s website states that “[The Belk Tower] holds a lot of historical meaning for UNCC students, it’s literally the center of attention and serves as a place of comfort, protest and vigils for Charlotte students, staff, alumni.”
A group of students even threatened to chain themselves to Belk Tower to protest its removal. However, there has been no follow up to those threats.
Since the announcement, Dubois selected a team of 14 designers who will colaborate on the new look for the Belk Plaza. Each of these designers holds some tie to the university as either a current faculty, student or an alumni.
A few of the selectees include UNC Charlotte’s Landscape Architect Peter Franz, Student Body President Mitch Daratony, Director of the UNC Charlotte Botanical Gardens Jeff Gillman, Associate Vice Chancellor for Business Services Keith Wassum and Karen Reavis, an alumna from the class of 1979.
Franz currently heads the Belk Plaza Design Committee. The committee will also work directly with Charlotte architectural firm LandDesign to remodel the plaza.