The opening of UB's three undergraduate apartment complexes has laid the foundation for a year-round, university-based community. The next phase in restructuring UB with an eye toward greater self-sufficiency could begin next fall. The plan calls for a complex containing retail stores and undergraduate apartments to be constructed along Lee Road and connect the Ellicott dormitories to the academic spine. An estimated $350 million will be needed to complete the project, although university officials stress no tuition dollars would contribute to construction costs.
Students who have attempted to walk from North Campus to Tops, Wegmans or the Boulevard Mall understand better than anyone the true nature of UB's place in Amherst. The needs of UB's student population are not fully compatible with Amherst's suburban structure. Students need personal vehicles to access the surrounding area's amenities; those lacking cars have a difficult time getting even to Maple Road or Niagara Falls Boulevard through public accommodations.
The bus trip to the Boulevard Mall alone necessitates one riding the Blue Bird from North to South Campus, then riding a public bus back to Amherst (and past UB), an hour-long commute that could - and should - take no more than five minutes. Walking is barely a viable option, for it means trekking along the uncared-for sides of four-lane roads with heavy bundles of groceries, and, during the winter months, in temperatures below freezing.
The administration's new venture solves those difficulties. While no specific businesses have yet been contracted to occupy the space, there are plenty of student needs the complex promises to fill with dry cleaners, pharmacies, clothing stores, grocery stores and countless services. The university should open the communication lines with students in order to gauge interest as to which businesses are most desired. Chain shops and restaurants, while welcome, should not be the sole tenants of the new complex. Local business offering specialized goods and services would offer not only variety, but sufficient competition to keep prices reasonable.
Along with the existing undergraduate apartments and those yet to come, this new complex will create the atmosphere of a college town on campus - something our physical isolation presently inhibits. And while we applaud the recent additions to the UB landscape, after this project is done, it would behoove the university to cease construction on the North Campus for a time to allow the changes to settle in and UB's pocketbook to refill.
UB's placement of retail businesses on campus will be decried by some as the university turning its back on the community. That is a fallacy. The administration's priorities should be: 1) improving the quality of students' education, and 2) improving the quality of student life on campus, before playing to the greater community's concerns. The new complex works towards fulfilling the second goal.
Only now, UB will be part of a community too - its own.