One of the few places in town where you can grab a beer and rent time on a top-of-the-line gaming PC is set to be fully functional by the early spring.
University of Kentucky officials said they hope the Cornerstone building — a Winslow Avenue multi-purpose floor complete with a seven-stall food hall, innovation space and esports arena — will be a boon to campus educators, as well as a bridge from the university to the Lexington community.
The completion of the building will also likely be the closing chapter on a land-swap deal which also gave rise to the multi-story Hub student apartments, a downtown Target location and the demolition of the building which housed the iconic Kennedy’s Bookstore.
“It’s a really good opportunity for us to engage with the community to bring outside partners in,” said Abbie Loynachan, UK’s director of its Smart Campus Initiative. “And then of course, you know, we’re calling this our innovation corridor or just anything new and creative.”
Most of the over $34 million building is a parking garage with more than 900 spaces. The 23,000-square-foot first floor makes up the Cornerstone. Large windows around the exterior of the building flood the area with natural light.
The facade of the new building is marked by a Times Square-like, 55-foot-tall “digital media wall” which dominates the intersection of South Limestone and Avenue of Champions at night. On the first floor, beneath the giant glowing sign is the entrance to the Cornerstone Exchange — a food hall that is already hailed as the only place on campus you can grab a beer.
The first tenant of the food hall, A Cup of Commonwealth, is expected to open this month, said Melody Flowers, UK’s executive director for strategic analysis and policy. Rolling Oven, a pizzeria, and a bar plus four other unannounced local restaurants will come into the space and will likely open in the spring. The university plans to line the stone patio area around the building with outdoor furniture, so folks can eat inside or out.
At the other end of the floor, a stage lined with 12 gaming chairs and a long table facing a small grand stand that can seat just over 100 people make up the main components of the esports theater. For an esports match, the stage can hold two teams of six gamers. Just behind the grand stand are two “team rooms” which both also hold eight gaming PCs.
The team rooms can function as a sort of locker rooms, that teams could walk into the arena and “have a very dramatic sense of joining the crowd and getting people ramped up for a game and online competition,” said Loynachan.
Behind the stage there is also a media room where casters — the esports equivalent of in-game commentators — could narrate a match and operate the cameras in the esports theater. The hope for the space is that it functions as a sort of laboratory classroom for broadcast journalism students looking to make an “ESPN-level” production, said Flowers.
When not used for competitive gaming, the hope is for the computers to be incorporated into computer science or gaming-related classes, while the stage could be used for speaking events.
Next to the esports theater is the gaming lounge, where 50 Alienware gaming PCs hum away behind a reception desk where anyone — not just students — can walk in and rent time to play on one of the computers, so long as they’re not in use by a class, Loynachan said. The plan is to also have rentable gaming consoles at the desk which can be hooked into one of the three large TVs in the space, each flanked by comfy furniture.
The array of gaming PCs and the spaces dedicated to gaming are part of the physical realization of the school’s partnership with Gen. G, an international, multibillion-dollar esports organization.
The space between the food hall and the gaming areas has been dubbed an “innovation space” by the university. It features an array of long tables, desks and stackable lego-like furniture. Save for most of the chairs, nearly everything in the room is on wheels, so that the space can transform from a classroom or study area into a large banquet room in just a few minutes.
The Cornerstone soft opened a few weeks ago, but many of the features in the space are still a work in progress. Loynachan said at the moment, they’re “fine-tuning everything,” but expected the space to be ready come spring.