Shaw University — which has called Raleigh, North Carolina, home since its founding in 1865 — is hoping a campus redevelopment and rezoning project will help ease its financial problems. 

Like many other historically Black colleges, the university has struggled financially due to declining enrollment, underfunding, and a shrinking market share. Private and federal loans, combined with rising costs of operating the campus, have placed the school in urgent need of a cash infusion. 

Under the plan, the university will lease parts of the campus to developers for the creation of residential and commercial space. The campus is located in a rapidly developing part of Raleigh, and the land the university flagged for rezoning was valued between $160 million and $270 million as of 2019 — far outstripping its annual budget, The Assembly previously reported. The Raleigh City Council approved the rezoning proposal in June. 

We talked with Kevin Sullivan, the university’s vice president for real estate and strategic development, about what’s to come. The conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.  

Dejah Miles: To start, could you please explain how this redevelopment aligns with the university’s long-term goals and visions?

Kevin Sullivan: Shaw University’s historic Raleigh campus has been an integral part of the city since its founding in the late 19th century, even preceding much of downtown Raleigh’s development. The rezoning and redevelopment efforts are in line with our mission to preserve our history while creating an environment that attracts and retains students. To achieve this, we need to provide modern facilities, such as science buildings, residence halls, and a new student center, which are appealing to today’s students and enhance their learning experience. 

Shaw University in downtown Raleigh, North Carolina, is hoping to capitalize on its sought-after location through a new rezoning plan. (Courtesy: Shaw University)

You mentioned the preservation of historic buildings. How does Shaw University plan to balance preserving its heritage with meeting modern educational needs? Will all historic buildings remain, or will some be renovated or demolished?

Shaw University has identified four key historic buildings [Estey Hall, Tupper Memorial Hall, Leonard Hall (or Leonard Medical School), and Tyler Hall (or Leonard Medical Hospital)] that we are dedicated to preserving. We have also received funding from the National Park Service to help with the renovation and maintenance of these historic structures. Maintaining historic buildings is costly, but we are committed to preserving our history while also creating an appealing campus for students. Some buildings may undergo renovations, while others may be replaced, but the core historic buildings will remain intact.

Can you elaborate on how Shaw University plans to determine the criteria for retaining or demolishing specific buildings on its campus? 

Kevin Sullivan

Shaw University is only now at the beginning of hiring an architectural/planning firm to help us create The Shaw University District Master Plan. Once hired, they will begin the serious work of helping us best understand what we need to do with the campus — for example, where the campus layout could be improved, what buildings may be near the end of their useful life, what historic preservation requirements are involved — and gathering input from the students, faculty, staff, alumni, and community.

No decisions about any building have been made yet, except for those buildings that we already agreed to preserve as a part of the rezoning effort and that have National Park Service easements associated with them.

What potential impacts do you foresee the revitalization efforts having on the surrounding community and local businesses in the area?

Currently, the neighborhood near Shaw University lacks many essential amenities, such as grocery stores and restaurants. We aim to change that by generating businesses and development that will benefit both our students and the local community. Our goal is to create an environment where students have access to a variety of services and residents see improved amenities right on their doorstep. 

There are concerns about gentrification and its potential impact on the area. Can you address these concerns and explain how Shaw University plans to avoid any negative effects on the community?

Gentrification is a valid concern, but it’s important to note that Shaw University is not an outside party coming in. We have been a part of the community for a long time. 

Our redevelopment efforts are focused on leveraging our own property and real estate to benefit the university and the community. We have no intention of selling our land. Instead, we plan to develop it ourselves with long-term partners who share our mission. 

We are committed to preserving the history of the community while making it more attractive and vibrant for everyone. We believe that, with Shaw University in control of the process, gentrification will not be an issue.

What is the university’s revenue projection to successfully meet its financial objectives, particularly in terms of repaying loans and funding the campus renovation project? 

The university does not have a set revenue projection for The Shaw University District. The project is going to take a lot of time to develop, so any forecast we undertake would be out of date almost immediately after it was prepared. 

In addition, while revenue is important, it is not the only factor in determining the success of the project. For example, a new residence hall may not directly generate revenue for the university, but it would provide our students with a state-of-the-art living-learning facility that will help in the recruitment and retention of students, which is priceless to us. The concept is to create a sustainable model of development that allows Shaw to have new revenue sources that are not just tied to tuition because of the burden on our students.

What indicators or markers will Shaw University use to gauge the success of this redevelopment plan?

While specific indicators are still being developed, the success of our redevelopment plan will be measured by several factors. First and foremost, it must generate revenue to support the university’s financial sustainability. Additionally, it should enhance the campus environment, attract and retain students, and provide valuable amenities. Importantly, it should not negatively impact the university’s core functions. We aim to create a vibrant campus that benefits our students and the community, both financially and socially.

Dejah Miles is a fellow with the HBCU Student Journalism Network, a project of Open Campus

This story was co-published with Capital B, a Black-led, nonprofit local and national news organization reporting for Black communities across the country. Visit them at capitalbnews.org or on Twitter @CapitalBNews

Dejah is a senior majoring in communications and journalism at Bowie State University .