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Restoring a sense of community

Walking, biking, chatting, eating, shopping, chilling. In civic space brimming with green grass, shoppers will savor good eats and cool retail shops.  This is the charming portrait that a new master plan offers for downtown Elon. It’s a far cry from its current state — and a vision that many Elon students embrace.

Over the years, the Town of Elon’s main attraction has been the university’s exquisite campus. A botanical garden, in fact. Yet, as students routinely note, the drab streetscape of the surrounding town lack the same personality.

“You know what would be cool for Elon? Something like King’s Street in Charleston!” said Marissa Russo, an Elon junior.

Town leaders advanced a revitalization plan recently for the eight-block area near the McEwen Communications School, known as downtown Elon.  Under this proposal, the new downtown would consist of boutiques, restaurants, offices and apartments— and much needed parking. A project aimed at redefining the community at the center of the 5,500-student campus and a handful of residential neighborhoods. The plan is to make the structures sharp, chic and inviting. An area that will share design elements with the university’s campus, but will incorporate its own flair.

While students Russo and Erin Strosnider are unsure of the project’s potential, they’re confident that Elon is making good decisions for the future. For students, the new downtown has its advantages.

“It would be smart for Elon,” said Strosnider, an Elon senior. Nearby retail locations would benefit students with limited access to cars, Strosnider said. The BioBus is smart in theory, said Strosnider, but often takes too much time to make its way around Elon and Burlington.

Perhaps one of the most vital additions to Elon’s downtown is a green space. It would serve as the town center, useful for families and students alike. Elon has never had a safe, outdoor gathering place for residents. A new and improved downtown could provide just that.

Despite plans for new businesses, some Elon students are comfortable with the current one-street downtown on Williamson Avenue. Russo is sure officials are planning wisely, “but [the changes] would definitely change the culture and dynamic of Elon,” Russo said.

Even if the plans were approved, the construction wouldn’t be completed for about 10 to 20 years. This allows officials more time for adequate planning and approval.

“Elon is a dynamic campus that has already changed in the four years I’ve been here,” Strosnider said. “It doesn’t impact me now, but it would have an impact on future Elon students and that’s what matters.”

Hesitant at first mention, Russo came to the conclusion that she sees how the plans could be appealing to prospective students and possibly expand Elon’s admissions.

“I had no idea this was happening,” said Russo, “but it would be nice to come back in 10 to 20 years and see a town center.” A place for students to economically contribute to the community would be ideal for the Town of Elon, Strosnider said.

If the plans are approved and steps progress, students and residents may want to have a say in what new restaurants and retail stores they’d like to see, or keep.

“I think it would be nice to have new restaurants,” said Russo. “But I love The Root!”

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