What will Cullowhee look like in 20 years?

Not a seat was empty during a meeting held on March 16 to discuss upcoming plans for WCU’s Millennial Campus Initiative and the future of Cullowhee. The initiative was designed to plan how to combine academic advancement with economic development, and to tie together the needs of campus and the surrounding residential and business community.

Dr. Susan Jenkins(left), Executive Director of Cherokee Preservation Foundation and Steve Warren, Chair of the Committee, speaking with the crowd after the meeting adjourned. March 16, 2012. Photo: Ben Haines

“If the idea seems fuzzy to you, it’s because it is,” said Steve Warren, Chair of the Millennial Campus Initiative committee and former Chair of the WCU Board of Trustees.

Warren encouraged the crowd to ask questions, give suggestions and even disagree with what the committee had formulated thus far. The floor was open to discussion from beginning to end.

The audience asked plenty of questions from sustainability, the preservation of nature and creating a business district with a town center. Students were interested in the upcoming alcohol referendum, commented on protecting their intermural fields and discussed which establishments they would like to see in the proposed town center.

No issues were nessecarily resolved that day, but the committee was eager to hear and make note of what the crowd had to say. After all, the committee stated early in the meeting that this is still the planning stage of most of the development and not to expect any decisions to be made hastily.

The committee, handpicked by Chancellor Belcher, hosted the meeting that drew in a crowd of faculty, staff, local business owners and students.


 The idea of sustainable funding and economic livelihood was first on the list of important topics of the meeting.

“This is a long-term initiative,” said Dr. Louis Buck, committee member and Dean of WCU College of Business. “It won’t be fulfilled for 20 years. We must have a continuity process.”

The panel presented the idea of scanning a demographic in order to see who would be coming and investing in the area. Once analyzed, the next step would be to make those business available for that particular demographic.

“We have a number of businesses in Atlanta who would love to come here, invest in the area and live here. We need a town center, we need something that will create a lifestyle to where people would want to come, stay and do their work,” said Warren.

Western is special

A comment from the crowd arose the discussion of how Western’s setting makes it special in the UNC system. A man spoke of how the natural environment surrounding WCU gives students a “pristine laboratory” that makes other institutions jealous.

“We don’t have to go anywhere, and places like Charlotte are envious. We have some real opportunity here,” said the man from the crowd, while the panel was quickly writing down his comments.

The discussion then continued to how Western could utilize the environment and property it owns for the greater good of the community.

“This county experiences higher rates of obesity and complications due to heart disease.  Cullowhee also lacks easy access to recreational facilities. We have a lot of great national protected land, but it’s not very developed or easily accessible. The goal of the trail system of WCU and Jackson County Greenway system is to have something right here and can also used by the community,” said Josh Whitmore, associate director of outdoor programs at WCU and coordinator of the West Campusl trail project.

Protecting  businesses and environment

A comment from a woman in the crowd proposed a discussion about direct competition to local businesses. She wanted the panel to protect the current local businesses by not allowing a similar commercial chain to open up in the proposed town center, thus potentially ending the small business feel of Cullowhee. She also wanted to make sure the new businesses would be appropriate to the region.

“We don’t have to solve this problem today, and it’s a sensitive one,” said Warren. “On one hand you’re going to have a certain constituency in our area that say ‘I would love to see a Borders, a Chili’s, a sports bar and you’re going to have some people say, ‘I absolutely do not want to see us become over-commercialized with a bunch of chain restaurants.’”

Warren then posed the question: How do they decide who is right and who is wrong?

The crowd suggested having a separate committee of students, faculty member, and members of the community decide.

“You should really focus on students, because a lot of them don’t consider Western because it’s so far away from everything,” said senior Charlie Jones.

Jones then brought up the upcoming alcohol referendum. He said potential students would have an increased interest in attending Western if it passed. It would be a win-win for Cullowhee’s business district and Western’s student population.

A woman from the crowd expressed concern over the converging of natural landscape that deserves preservation and suggested the zoning of a potential business district. While she said the word “zoning” the panel each slightly grimaced, surely imagining the headache that was to come, but they knew she had a point.

“We have the opportunity to make it in the beginning, so that we can say, ‘Well this group wants this, how can we do it without affecting the other group?’ We can negotiate a consensus of ‘I can live with that.’ The university really has to identify with what these individuals need, and how can we work together so everyone can live with it,” the woman said.

Questions from students

A student from the crowd asked about scheduling of classes. He said if a student had a class on the main campus then immediately followed by a class on the new campus, how would they expect the student to get there during the current allotted 15-minute time.

The answer: classes would be offered as early as 7:15 a.m. and the time in between would go up to 30 minutes. The committee is still experiencing issues with transportation, shuttle, parking, and pedestrian ways. WCU has purchased addition buses for next year to try and sustain a route between the two campuses.

MyCat has a two-page recommendation to students regarding scheduling and other questions.

Another concern came from SGA President TJ Eaves. He told the panel the student body was aware that one of the proposed sites for the millennial campus is the intermural field.

“That’s something that the students absolutely love, and if you’re going to be taking that space and using it for something else, you’re going to need to provide it somewhere else on campus,” said Eaves. “I know it might seem small on the list, but to the students, it’s almost a number one thing.”

Finally, almost unanimous cheering and an “amen” were the result of one student saying that the chain restaurant Cookout would absolutely perfect for this area.

The meeting closed with a few words from the Chair Steve Warren.

“Thank you for your comments, insights and suggestions. One thing that we all have in common here is that we love Western and want to make it a better place,” said Warren. “We want to make a better life for our students and better job opportunities and this Millennial Campus really provides an extraordinary opportunity to do that.”

Warren encouraged everyone to visit their website to contact the committee.

There will be two more meetings held on March 23 and 28. Campus and area community are encouraged to attend.