Western Carolina University’s Noble Hall, a new 120,000-square-foot mixed-use facility on Centennial Drive in the heart of campus, is now open for student occupancy and awaiting phased business openings beginning in October.
News of the fifth and final business tenant came recently when it was announced that MadStone Cafe and Catching Light Books will occupy remaining retail space. The locally owned and operated bookstore and eatery will be a start-up partnership of three Jackson County businesses, made possible in part by investment from the WCU Endowment Fund.
Construction of the $29.3 million Noble Hall, which already was included in the university’s master plan for new construction, was accelerated to replace a structure on WCU’s traditional commercial strip that was heavily damaged by fire on Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013. The new facility features student residential units on all four floors, with a capacity for 420 student beds, and space for commercial and dining establishments on the ground floor. Some students, including a residential director and residential assistants, already have moved into the building.
The three owner-operators of MadStone Cafe and Catching Light Books are Jeanette Evans, the owner of Mad Batter Food and Film in Sylva, who previously operated the Mad Batter, a business lost in the fire; Chris Wilcox, owner of City Lights Bookstore in Sylva; and Suzanne Stone, a professional counselor at Sylva Clinical Associates who owned Rolling Stone Burrito, which also was lost in the fire.
“I am so grateful that the university has entrusted Jeannette, Suzanne and myself with the job of establishing an indie bookstore/cafe on campus,” said Wilcox, a 1995 WCU alumnus. “We aim to build it into an iconic hangout that will resonate with folks in the same way as prior businesses on Centennial Drive such as the Townhouse, Rolling Stone and Mad Batter….a spot where great memories are made rather than just a place to spend money.”
The upcoming opening of MadStone Cafe and Catching Light Books has an interesting faculty and student element, said Mary Ann Lochner, WCU’s legal counsel. Students in business capstone courses such as accounting will be employed there, and Darrell Parker, dean of the WCU College of Business, and Kenneth Flynt, associate dean of the college, have provided counsel to owners regarding business start-up. Two faculty members from the School of Art and Design, associate professor Erin Adams and assistant professor Betty Torrell, are assisting with interior design, and there are plans to include gallery space for student art work, Lochner said
The other four business tenants in Noble Hall will be the first Chili’s Bar and Grill in North Carolina west of Asheville, which will be operated by Aramark, WCU’s food service partner; a Cullowhee outpost for the Sylva-based outdoor recreation retailer Blackrock Outdoor Co.; Bob’s Mini-Mart convenience store; and an upgraded Subway sandwich shop. The opening of MadStone Cafe and Catching Light Books, the convenience store and the sandwich shop will mark the return to campus of four of the business owners who were uprooted as a result of the fire.
“Our primary goal was to ensure that we have a good mix of businesses that will serve our students and that will complement and benefit one another in what is, in effect, a mini town center,” Lochner said. “We also realized that there was a great deal of local interest, both from those on campus as well as from the surrounding community, on having as many locally owned establishments as possible located in the commercial section of the building.”
It is anticipated that two of the businesses will be open by October, a couple more between then and the end of the year, and then Chili’s after the holiday break, Lochner said. A dedication ceremony for Noble Hall likely will be scheduled for next spring.
Noble Hall is named in honor of the Noble Nine, the group of trustees from the late 1800s who were instrumental in the development of the school that evolved into WCU.
By Geoff Cantrell