Recent upgrades at University Center include new lawns, seating, shade structures and workstations. UC Irvine professor Belinda Campos, left, says the “relaxing, positive environment” helps her think creatively.

University Center improvements earn an A+

by TOM BERG

Ask UC Irvine professor Belinda Campos where she goes to study or meet with students, and you might think she’d say the library or classroom.

It’s actually University Center, the 35-year-old shopping center that’s become a community hub because of ongoing investment and improvements.

“It has places for people to socialize and think creatively,” says Campos, after meeting students in a grassy courtyard. “You’re surrounded by a relaxing, positive environment, so you’re able to problem-solve or think more deeply than you might otherwise.”

Recent upgrades include new shade structures, lawns, outdoor seating and outdoor workstations to study in the fresh air. Restaurant patios allow you to enjoy SoCal’s great weather.

“University Center is quintessential Irvine,” said University Park resident Cindy Taylor on a Saturday afternoon. “It has always been a beautiful center, but these improvements make it even more convenient and enjoyable in ways I would not have imagined.”

Continuous reinvestment

University Center is an example of the continuous reinvestment that takes place in Irvine’s shopping centers. Each year, Irvine Company invests millions of dollars to add trees, fountains, outdoor dining and seating – even playgrounds and village greens – at its centers.

Because of this, Irvine shopping centers have evolved into gathering places for families and friends to meet, dine and socialize.

“The entire city benefits from this,” says Alex Polen, managing principal of LandStudio 360, the landscape architect for the project.

“And it’s quite unique to Irvine. You really don’t see this elsewhere.”

Bridging UCI and the city

As each retail center is improved, it takes on a personality or character of its own. With University Center, it is innovation – like that of its neighbor, UC Irvine.

Here you’ll find the county’s first Amazon storefront, the county’s first small-format Target store, and a new Regal Theater with reserved seating, electric recliners and bar service.

And you’ll find the Ray Watson footbridge connecting UC Irvine to the city. The bridge is named for one of Irvine’s original master planners who envisioned Irvine as a city of intellect and innovation.

Irvine Company also has made major improvements to Quail Hill Shopping Center, Alton Marketplace, Campus Plaza, Cypress Village Shopping Center and Walnut Village Center in the past year, with plans to improve all 24 of its Irvine shopping centers.