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Work continues to make Uptown a live, work, play destination

University Mall
Posted at 4:56 AM, Sep 09, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-09 08:36:18-04

"People really need to come out and are certainly welcome to come out and see what's going on," said RD Management's Christopher Bowen.

He's part of the mastermind behind what's happening at the University Mall, now called the Uptown Innovation District.

It's been the catalyst for change here in the University area. Instead of a traditional mall, he said to think of this site as a tech garage.

"This is something where really creative people in all walks of life, in all business areas, from retailing to digital media to engineering, satellite development, you name it. And the artists, we can't forget about the artists; it's really the arts and sciences colliding together here in this garage. So people are setting up, labs are setting up, offices, studios, and they're experimenting, and they're creating," said Bowen.

On the outside, Uptown is under construction. The skeleton of a former mall remains, but it's what's inside that's making national news.

One of those businesses is Vu. It's a state-of-the-art virtual production studio that made its headquarters inside the mall.

Then, Endorphinz.

"Today, we're in one of our sort of top secret rooms and organizations," Bowen said. "But this is Endorphinz. Endorphinz is out of New York City and LA, they run a lot of live studios, they create live studios in the fit tech business."

Endorphinz moved its headquarters here and had a grand opening in August. They've had such success that they continue to expand and add studios inside the mall.

"We also have the Institute of Applied Engineering. We're the only mall in America that has had their residents design satellites and launch them on SpaceX, and they're now little sandwich-size satellites, but they are circumnavigating the earth," explained Bowen. "They started here in what was the old University Square Mall. And you know that again, it's just every day you just never know who's going to be here. You never know what's going to be created. We have one of the top community robotics laboratories and Fab Labs and centers with an audit with an arena for robotics."

Even walking around the mall, you'll still see traditional stores and even a lively food court. It's just not what you think of if you're thinking mall.

"But what we found, more importantly, is that there are creators and inventors in our neighborhoods that are incredibly talented, are very passionate, but maybe don't have the resources and don't have the resources, a lot of cases, to be able to really realize their vision. And so that started to spawn in me, you know, what can we do with that?" said Bowen.

Part of that is thanks to what's now called the Soaring City Partnership.

"Our commitment, as we're building this innovation hub, and we're bringing in all these people, is to make sure that the community that lives here today is part of it. We're not pushing anyone out. This is about embracing the community because the community is where the jobs are going to be," said Mark Sharpe, Executive Director of the Soaring City Partnership.

"That is helping entrepreneurs, helping artists to really realize their dreams, and to do it in an urban neighborhood, and be able to bring the best to the, you know, to the neighborhood and, and be able to see where we can go from there. And so, you know, again, it's all unfolding," Bowen said.

In turn, these teams are working together to bring thousands of jobs to the community.

"Well, we know that we got a talented workforce that lives nearby, we're going to do job training here, we're already partnering with a number of our anchors to find ways to train people to upskill them. So they have an opportunity to help build the roads, start businesses," said Sharpe. "Our message to the community is that we're going to partner with them to create thousands and thousands of jobs, which is going to create billions and billions of economic activity."

Sharpe and Bowen say they're working to bring housing, Sprouts Grocery Store, and even making Fowler Avenue safer for everyone as part of their plans.

But don't expect work to stop here.

When asked when this project will be completed, Bowen said, "It'll never be completed. Now, it really won't. I mean, it's, that's the problem. And if you look at our neighborhoods, this is emblematic of our neighborhoods, neighborhoods never stop changing. Neighborhoods should never stop changing because you have, you know, continuation of generations."

He continued, "You have, you know, all sorts of things that happen within a neighborhood, and so they never stop changing. What you have to do is, is create healthy neighborhoods so that the change is able to be leveraged and used and really put to its best use, and so Rithm is never going to [not] change. If Rithm stops changing, even in 50 years means that it became a mall because the mall is the best example, malls stopped changing. And now look what we have, we have a problem, right?"