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The Sunnier Side of Sunnyside

BY JAKE STUMP


You might recall (or maybe not) some of your fondest moments of college life unfolding in the heart of Morgantown’s Sunnyside district.

Long known as the party hub for students, the Sunnyside neighborhood is transforming, reflecting a culture change that not only officials but also many students want to instill at West Virginia University.

In October 2012, the University announced a public-private partnership to develop a $70 million mixed-use residential and retail complex called University Place in the neighborhood.

The complex will include a 950-bed student apartment community, a new concept Sheetz grocery store and other retailers and amenities.

It’s part of a neighborhood-wide makeover that some think is past due, given the deteriorating quality of housing and the area’s reputation for street fires and riotous behavior.

Sunnyside

University Place, a new public-private partnership housing complex, now sits in Sunnyside adjacent to WVU’s downtown campus. Photo by Brian Persinger.

“Revitalization of the area will continue as more students, residents and retailers look to Sunnyside as a quality place to be,” said Randy Hudak, associate vice president of facilities and services.

The project was also estimated to generate $1.5 million in constructed-related business and occupation taxes in the initial phase. Now that the facility is open, it will generate additional taxes related to student housing and retail rents for the City of Morgantown.

“This area is strategically located next to current WVU housing — Summit and Honors Hall — and is just a couple blocks from our downtown campus, making it the ideal location to enhance our housing master plan while beautifying this blighted area of our city,” said Narvel Weese, vice president of administration and finance. “Just imagine — to live and shop in a neighborhood that’s walkable to campus academic buildings, the library, student center, campus transportation system and downtown Morgantown — that’s going to be amazing.”

Despite Sunnyside’s facelift, many alums will hold onto their experiences in the neighborhood. Some Mountaineers, including history professor Jenny Boulware and her students, believe that chronicling and preserving Sunnyside’s history is essential for the future.

In the fall of 2013, Boulware launched the Sunnyside Local History Project, which required students to research various aspects of Sunnyside’s past, including architecture, planning and socioeconomics.

Old Sunnyside wall

WEST VIRGINIA REGIONAL HISTORY CENTER, WVU LIBRARIES

New Sunnyside wall

BRIAN PERSINGER

Look familiar? The top undated photo shows a deteriorating wall along University Avenue in Sunnyside. Today the wall is in much better shape. Every year, students from the Laurel Chapter of Mortar Board paint the wall gold and blue. It’s often referred to as the “Hail West Virginia” wall.

Graduate student Brandi Oswald focused her research on the life of Sunnyside residents between 1915 and 1940. Oswald writes, “Long before rising housing demand transformed the neighborhood into an undergraduate haven, Sunnyside hosted a diverse working-class community composed of boarding homes, rental properties and family residences. Residents who worked in the glass, coal and tin industries were neighbors with teachers, college employees, taxi drivers, telephone operators and even Morgantown’s mayor.”

Students’ reports will be added to WVU’s West Virginia and Regional History Collection.


Sunnyside

No, this photo wasn’t manipulated. In this view from Sunnyside, you can see Mountaineer Field on the downtown campus where the Life Sciences Building is currently located. This original Mountaineer Field seated 38,000 when it was last used in 1979. Because it could not be expanded due to its proximity to campus buildings, WVU built a newer, larger stadium — now known as Mountaineer Field at Milan Puskar Stadium — that opened in 1980.

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