Author’s Note: I wrote this story in February 2016 as part of my journalism course work at the University of Alabama.
From the balcony of his third floor apartment, Will Imbusch watches as 5 p.m. traffic once again backs up on Dr. Edward Hillard Drive.
It's unusually mild for February 1 and Imbusch a junior at the University of Alabama has stepped outside for a quick study break.
"This is nothing new," he said. "Everyday around this time traffic always gets bad. I guess it's just rush hour."
Imbusch lives at the East Edge apartment complex on Jackson Avenue, which overlooks DCH Medical Center.
Dr. Edward Hillard Drive connects University and McFarland Boulevards and is a popular route for shoppers accessing The Shoppes at Legacy Park.
The Shoppes at Legacy Park is one of Tuscaloosa's newest retail developments. The shopping center opened in August and brought several new stores to the area.
Headlined by Fresh Market, a specialty grocery store, many of the retail outlets have captured the attention of Tuscaloosa's expanding college demographic.
Alan Spencer, vice president of Economic Development and Public Policy for the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama, points out that this is no accident.
"We periodically survey students on their spending habits, so we can present student spending data to retailers interested in this market," he said. "Student spending is important in recruiting retail to a college town like Tuscaloosa."
With the UA's enrollment at a record-high of 37,100 students, developers and city officials have increased project developments to serve local students.
Although student spending can be inconsistent, especially in the summer months, local businesses have found ways to adapt.
"Business definitely slows down when students are not in town, but most retailers have adjusted to those cycles," Spencer said. "In addition to a downturn in sales during the summer months, there is also a disruption of the labor supply. Business slows down which requires fewer employees, but at the same time many students leave the local labor pool."
UA student and local high school football coach Jonathan Paramore welcomes the new development, but worries about the traffic implications.
"I think it's convenient," he said. "I pass it almost everyday. So, it's easy for me to stop there, but traffic is already bad in that area. I couldn't imagine if it gets any worse."
Paramore also recounts a time earlier this summer when The Shoppes at Legacy Park could have been beneficial.
"Before the new Dick's Sporting Goods opened, one of my players needed some new shoulder pads," he said. "Academy didn't have the right size and his parents were forced to drive over an hour to Hoover to get some."
Nearly six months after opening, The Shoppes at Legacy Center have added many new tenants.
Residents can now enjoy a variety of dining options including Chuy's Mexican Food and Nothing But Noodles and large retailers like Bed Bath and Beyond and DSW Shoes.
While the location does have its drawbacks, most residents are satisfied with the added shopping and dining options.
"I could nearly walk there," Imbusch said as he takes one last look at the glowing red taillights in the traffic below. "That's pretty nice."