Work is almost complete at UTA's College Park District

ARLINGTON -- A student community complete with shopping, dining and entertainment and located just footsteps from classes is no longer just a vision at the University of Texas at Arlington, where work on the much-anticipated College Park District is almost complete.

The 22-acre development will house new university student housing, restaurants, shops, lofts, garage parking and a state-of-the-art welcome center. Once finished, it cements a long goal to shed the commuter school image from UT Arlington and replace it with a hip college town vibe.

The district includes a 4-acre park and the College Park Center, sports and special events facility.

College Park District, a collaboration between UT Arlington and the city of Arlington, is already being touted by students as a campus masterpiece. The residential and retail development is an estimated $80 million project.

"It's important for the students to have the type of amenities and opportunities that students at other major and top-tier universities are experiencing," said Bridget Lewis, a UT Arlington spokeswoman.

Students start moving in today, and classes begin Friday.

"Students are ready to move in ... and I can feel the excitement building," said Jennifer Fox, UT Arlington's student body president. "Although many of the businesses will not be opening until later in August or September, students are already talking about which places they want to try first."

The district's ceremonial grand opening will be held in the fall, but signs that the project is almost complete are evident. Final work took place at the new Dan Dipert University Welcome Center, which is expected to attract more than 20,000 visitors a year.

The district includes 27,000 square feet of retail space. A sign for the Pie Five Pizza Co. was the first to go up among retail spaces that line the bottom ground of the project. Coolberry Frozen Yogurt is expected to open in early September, according to UT Arlington, and Digg's Taco Shop has leased space off of Pecan Street south of UTA Boulevard. It is expected to open in November.

"It's looking good," said Greg Davis, a university facilities architect. "I knew it was going to be nice, but it really turned out much nicer."

There are also 100 apartment at The Lofts at College Park that are almost ready for residents. College Park District will also house the new 500-bed Vandergriff Hall, which is named after former Arlington Mayor and Tarrant County Judge Tom Vandergriff. Last week, about 17 resident advisers moved into the facility. Students will be able to move from one part of the residence hall to another via a sleek skywalk that overlooks the campus.

"It's nice," said Krystala Tyson, a sophomore and resident assistant who was settling into the hall recently. "There's a lot of new stuff and a lot of new things. I like the skywalk."

There will be a campus police substation inside the College Park development. The district will include an 1,800-car parking garage. Last fall, some 1,100 spaces began being used at the garage located at UTA Boulevard, between Pecan and Center streets.

The garages will feature security cameras, added patrols and "blue light" emergency call boxes.

The garage project was possible through a partnership with First Baptist Church of Arlington, which provided land and shares the garage with the university.

The city of Arlington committed $18 million for the project.

The district's centerpiece is the College Park Center, which opened in February. The $78 million arena is the new home for UT Arlington's men's and women's basketball and women's volleyball.

Diane Smith, 817-390-7675