Wingate U. leaving Matthews

By Kara Lopp and Mike Parks

Wingate University began saying goodbye this week to Matthews, as the school announced it will move programs and classes from the town to a massive corporate park off Interstate 485 in Charlotte’s Ballantyne community.

The university also has abandoned plans to build a new campus off East John Street near Interstate 485 as part of the planned Wingate Commons, a mixed-use, 63-acre development, Jeff Atkinson, director of marketing and communications for the school, said. The school had purchased 9 acres for the new campus. It was unclear by press time if the property has already been sold.

The university’s move comes down to parking, space and “a package that, quite frankly, we couldn’t pass up,” according to Dr. Robert Supernaw, vice president of graduate and professional programs, who spoke on behalf of the Union County-based school at the announcement Wednesday, June 5, outside the Ballantyne Corporate Park. Matthews programs, including some 600 students and all the faculty and staff that goes with them, include masters of business administration, graduate programs in sports management and education, an undergraduate program for working adults and other professional and continuing education programs, according to a news release.  The university’s main campus sits about 20 miles away in Wingate.

The Matthews campus, 110 Matthews Station St., will close in early August and classes in Ballantyne will begin Aug. 26, Jeff Atkinson, director of marketing and communications for the school, said. Wingate has had a campus in Matthews for 22 years and launched its masters in business administration program there in 1991, he said.

“We want to thank the citizens, the business community and the leaders of Matthews who have been so supportive over the last 22 years that we have been in downtown Matthews,” Atkinson said.

Staff at Wingate’s Ballantyne campus will be responsible for training the “future leaders of” public schools, universities and community colleges in the region, according to Supernaw.

The space in Ballantyne’s corporate park gives Wingate the room to grow it had sought in Matthews, as well as plenty of space for parking. It’s a conversation officials said Wednesday has been ongoing for a while.

“From instructional space to parking we’ve simply outgrown our current facilities. This location will give Wingate University room to expand,” Atkinson said, adding the school does not plan to move forward with the John Street/I-485 campus.

In December 2010, Matthews commissioners approved elevation drawings for a classroom-office building, to be built at the school’s planned campus off East John Street. Then, officials said construction would begin in fall 2013.

Charlotte-based developer Lat Purser of Lat Purser & Associates said previously the recession has forced him to wait to market the project. Wingate, though, had already purchased 9 acres by the 2010 vote. Plans for Wingate Commons call for an apartment complex, bank, restaurants and 100-bed, four-story hotel, plus room for a day care and retail and office space. Purser plans to erect a bridge, possibly stone-covered, over Four Mile Creek, which traverses the property. Preliminary sketches also contain a parking deck and walking trails.

But the project’s keystone was to be the university. Purser could not be reached by press time to comment on what the school’s decision will mean for his development.

The Ballantyne campus will take up more than 13,600 square feet, which will include 10 classrooms, administrative offices and a computer lab. It’s a good fit for the school, Wingate officials said, because of all Ballantyne has to offer – easy access to I-485, numerous restaurants, green space, a YMCA center and nearby connections to the Mecklenburg County greenway system – but also because of the networking connections available within walking distance for students.

“I can’t image there being any downside to being part of this dynamic community,” said Bob Morgan, chair of the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce, at Wednesday’s announcement.

The corporate park is home to 250 companies and more than 13,000 employees, and soon will welcome MetLife’s new U.S. retail business headquarters. For students in the school’s business administration program, learning in Ballantyne will give plenty of local opportunities for real-life experience.

“Wingate will definitely be an asset for our community,” Ned Curran, president of Bissell Companies, said in an email to Matthews-Mint Hill Weekly. “I think Wingate’s presence will lead naturally to collaborative opportunities with area businesses.”

Wingate will move into the first floor of the Harris Building, which has more room available for expansion, as do other buildings nearby in the park. Curran said Bissell Companies is currently in negotiations for the remaining space in Harris, but did not say whether the possible tenant or tenants is tied to the school.

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