When Belk Tower was scheduled for demolition in late 2015, many students, alumni, community members and leaders opposed the decision. They argued that the tower symbolized free speech, activism, history, unity and culture, among other things. Belk Tower stood for about 45 years and when it was torn down people viewed it as an end of a community and unity that were once so prevalent.
Many people opposed the decision to demolish Belk Tower despite it being declared unsafe. Alumni stated that this was a place where the university spirit was represented and that it created an environment of belonging among students, alumni and community members. In late 2015, the tower was demolished and plans were quickly implemented to restructure and remodel the area.
In February of 2016, the University, LandDesign, Charlotte Design and other community partners joined to create a plan for remodeling the area. Collectively, they were able to hold public forums that invited UNC Charlotte students, members of the Student Government Association, faculty and staff, as well as other community members to voice their opinions on what Belk Plaza should look like and what it should represent. Some of the main things that people viewed as important to include were temporary art, movable seating, temporary food, an active quad, interactive water and an open space for students to convene.
Some of the questions asked in terms of remodeling Belk Plaza were: “My favorite thing about UNCC? There is no place to _______ currently in Belk Plaza? How do you move throughout the space of the university?”
One of the main goals of the project was “Strengthening our Collegiate Experience and Creating Memorable Places.” Since the inception of the University, the center of campus has served as a place where students, alumni and community members organized. The partners implementing the project wanted to maintain this area as a meeting space, but also “strengthen the pedestrian experience, create a memorable central space and provide a sustainable design.”
In July of this year, UNC Charlotte tweeted a sneak peek of the fountain and plaza. Students, alumni and other Twitter users were not impressed. Many stated that it was not a worthy alternative to the Belk Tower, while others stated that it was “boring.” One specific tweet stated: “This material quality makes this look like it belongs at the entrance of Highland Creek – not the center of a national tier university.” Highland Creek is a neighborhood in Charlotte.
This material quality makes this look like it belongs at the entrance of Highland Creek – not the center of a national tier university.
— M.C. Pasquith (@michaelpasquith) July 12, 2018
Twitter users proposed a Bonnie Cone statue as an alternative to the fountain and current design of the plaza. Students stated that it would represent the university’s core values; something a fountain or a performance stage would not accomplish. But overall, the consensus was that students and alumni just wanted a newly remodeled Belk Tower.
Flash forward to October 2018, Phase One of Belk Plaza is now open to students, faculty, staff and community members. Once the fences came down and the new Belk Plaza was revealed, sentiments did not change among students and alumni.
As one walks through the plaza, there is a fountain that meets the eye and a sloping walkway leading to the fountain with greenery enveloping it as well as a performance stage opposite the fountain.
There have been varying opinions on the newly remodeled Belk Plaza. Some students that were not here to see the Belk Tower or walk alongside it have stated that the new plaza “is nice and adds more character to the area.” Other students stated that they were just happy construction was done for the meantime, which meant less time they had to navigate through the construction area. One student, Andrew Walker, stated that the fountain itself adds substance to the plaza, but he did not believe it was necessary to change it from what it once looked like.
On September 28, UNC Charlotte Facilities Management’s Twitter tweeted a picture of the new Belk Plaza. Like the tweet in July, the statement created backlash. A UNC Charlotte alumnus posted a picture of the Belk Tower and said: “No offense guys, but this was better. #UNCCharlotte #BringBackBelkTower.”
— Juan Alfredo Fuentes (@JohnnyFountains) September 29, 2018
A student stated that “at least the Belk Tower was unique. This is nothing. Put a statue of Miss Bonnie Cone at least.” While another student also stated that a centerpiece was needed for the center of campus.
Many compared the plaza to a business park rather than representing the culture of a university.
Student Michael Bovi stated: “It looks nice and it is also nice that there is an area to sit and hang out with other people.”
One student that wished to remain anonymous stated: “You could put that on any campus or office park and it would not be unique to our campus environment. We do not have a lot of history on campus and the administration makes it too easy to remove historical, valuable pieces and replace it with things that look good but possess no meaning. This is one of the reasons campus pride and spirit is not as prevalent.” This student also went to the public forums and did not believe that their opinions were truly considered into the implementation of the project.
This sentiment was shared among many students and alumni. Others hope that once Phase II of the project is implemented, more students will be drawn to the center of campus and that it will be used as a community space. Students, alumni and community members want this area to relate to the context of the University.
Peter Franz, one of the main project leads, told Niner Times that more improvements will be added throughout the fall, such as “trees, shrubs, and quiet areas with tables and shade for studying.”
As these improvements are made, sentiment among students, alumni and community members may change, but they are still striving to include more meaning and representation in an area that once held a lot of value for the campus history and culture.