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Eagles' flight
Eagle Village: A bright new beginning

Date published: 7/7/2010

FEW ADDITIONS in recent years have changed the look of Greater Fredericksburg as dramatically as the University of Mary Washington's Eagle Village pedestrian bridge, which spans U.S. 1 near the city campus. But that's just the stem of UMW's exciting new project, due to open this summer.

As a mixed-use housing/retail development project, Eagle Village is part of a trend at Virginia universities. Old Dominion University has a similar, 75-acre initiative, mixing shops and a hotel with student housing, business offices, and research facilities.

Five years ago, moreover, Christopher Newport University cut the ribbon on CNU Village, a project similar in scale to UMW's. Today, 400 CNU students live in 130 units above retail stores such as Panera Bread, Sushi & Spice, and Schooners Grill, and a credit union. The simple idea: Students and other local residents support the stores, which in turn act as income streams for the university's property needs.

So how is CNU Village working out after five years? Doug Hornsby, CEO of the CNU Real Estate Foundation (a private, 501c3 organization linked to the university à la the UMW Foundation), says, despite the poor economy, "things have been pretty good." There's been little turnover in the retail shops and a nice mix of tenants.

Mr. Hornsby says such high-density, mixed-use developments are the best use of the land available to a university. Retail is "a good money-generator," he notes, and the whole project becomes "a win-win situation that benefits the students and the community."

Not to mention the university. Recently, the CNU Foundation was able to buy an apartment complex just behind CNU Village to provide more student housing. The Newport News institution is thriving, well on its way to becoming a premier public university.

With cupolas crowning Eagle Village's signature bridge, the first phase of the project is due for completion July 10, in time to welcome students for the fall semester. (The public is invited to view the construction at an open house on July 16.) After 18 months of work, 7 acres of a past-prime shopping center have become a beautiful residence hall facility with office and retail space at a cost of about $115 million.

And that's just the start of the plans for Eagle Village. Indeed, that dramatic new span across U.S. 1 could be called a bridge to the future of UMW.