The New Downtown Campus
By Carl Kotala
The downtown environment provides us with a unique opportunity and learning environment, informed by a sense of place, by the community, and the business ecology, along with the creative and technological ecology that surrounds it.”
This is how A. Dale Whittaker, provost and executive vice president, University of Central Florida (UCF) described the distinctive difference UCF’s downtown campus will create. Now, with help from local businesses and regional and city civic leaders, UCF’s downtown campus proposal is becoming a reality.
The project, which was first proposed by UCF President John C. Hitt in September 2014, cleared two big hurdles in March when it received the approval of Florida’s Board of Governors, and the Florida state legislature agreed to put $20 million into the 2016-2017 budget for the construction of the downtown campus.
Additional funds for the $60 million campus were to come from UCF, which pledged $20 million, and from the community. As of early March, the school had raised $16 million in pledges from local business and non-profit leaders and was well on its way to reaching its goal of $20 million.
“Twenty-four years ago yesterday, I became UCF’s president. In all the years since, few moments have been as important as today,” Hitt said on March 2, after the Board of Governors vote. “Today, we can plant a seed in downtown Orlando that will benefit our students, community and state for decades to come.” The project has also cleared the hurdle of getting Governor Scott’s approval.
When approved, the campus will be located on 68 acres in downtown Orlando’s Creative Village, located on property that was cleared for redevelopment when the old Amway Arena – former home of the NBA’s Orlando Magic – was torn down. The city has given the university part of the land for its downtown campus and 15 acres have been designated for higher education. UCF is partnering with Valencia College on the project, which would open in the fall of 2018 and be able to host 7,700 UCF and Valencia students.
In addition to the $60 million academic building, there would be room for UCF’s Center for Emerging Media, a Valencia College Culinary and Hospitality academic space, student housing and 1,800 parking spaces.
As part of the deal, UCF would pay $5 million to renovate the Center for Emerging Media, where UCF’s nationally- ranked graduate video gaming school, the Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy, is located. The Valencia campus, student housing and a 600-space parking garage will be built by a private developer. The remaining 1,200 parking spaces would be provided by the City of Orlando and UCF.
One of the advantages for students attending the proposed downtown campus is that they would be in an innovative learning environment and within walking distance of a wide array of potential internship and job opportunities in fields such as digital media, communication, public service and health-related programs.
“This project best aligns academic offerings with industry needs and neighborhood synergies,” Whittaker said, “and it provides our students with hands-on, high-impact learning experiences in a way that is just not possible on our main campus.”
UCF Board of Trustees Chairman Marcos Marchena believes the new campus’ proximity to the local job market would help give students a “leg up” for opportunities after graduation, while also lauding that the campus will bring higher education to students in a traditionally underserved area.
“I grow more convinced as I get older that education is one of the few real ways to change the life of an individual, of a family, and in fact of an entire community,” he said. “I believe this campus has the potential for creating that kind of change.”
Because students will be able to take classes at Valencia College and UCF on the same campus, it could save them thousands of dollars compared with the cost of enrolling singularly at a state university. “For me and many of my peers, every dollar matters – and this model is an exciting way to become a UCF Knight even more affordable, in a professionally focused environment. It’s a win-win,” said UCF Student Government Association President Cait Zona, who also noted that many students already live, work and volunteer in downtown Orlando.
In a strong show of support for the project, the Board of Governors meeting not only featured presentations from Hitt and Marchena, but Valencia College President Sandy Shugart and community leaders such as Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs, and Orange County Public Schools Superintendent Barbara Jenkins, who all spoke glowingly in favor of the downtown campus.
“In Orlando, we’re not afraid to dream big; but, we don’t just dream. We partner with other jurisdictions, the private sector, our residents and our educational partners to fulfill our shared vision for the future of our community. Our successful partnerships have brought us amenities like SunRail, Medical City and our community venues,” Dyer wrote.
Dyer posted a blog on February 4 in which he outlined his support for the downtown campus. And the City of Orlando is certainly stepping up to help move things forward. In addition to donating land estimated at $20 million to UCF, the city has agreed to other infrastructure support projects – including realigning and renovating Livingston Street and conducting storm water improvements. All told, the land donations and infrastructure projects provided by the City of Orlando and Creative Village developers comes to $75 million.
“For the past two years, the City of Orlando has been working with the University of Central Florida (UCF) and Valencia College on plans for a shared campus at Downtown Orlando’s Creative Village, a project that will be of equal benefit to our region as the others already mentioned.”
Putting Orlando on the Innovation Map
From an urban development and city building perspective, the UCF Downton Campus and Creative Village are following the “innovation district” mode, which clusters creative, intellectual and technology talent in walkable and well connected neighborhoods in order to maximize output. Most great downtowns have a significant higher education component, and UCF Downtown has been seen as the “missing piece” for downtown Orlando.
According to urban planning experts like Craig Ustler of Ustler Development, which is leading the Creative Village effort, it is also about lifestyle.
“Tech companies, start-ups and creative people do very well in proximity to smart and active college students, and this is magnified in urban settings. You get the benefit of a ‘college town feel’ in the middle of downtown Orlando,” Ustler said.
Ustler believes this type of environment is key in making Orlando more competitive with other leading “creative class” cities like Portland, Denver and Austin.
“By definition, the next great American university is urban,” Ustler explained. “That is where the demand is and that is where students want to be. This gives UCF and Valencia a chance to really set the bar as outstanding universities recognized on a national and global scale. Specifically for Creative Village, UCF Downtown is the ideal building block. It fosters partnerships and collaboration while being integrated with Parramore. It will anchor an urban, mixed-use project that serves the community.”
“First and foremost,” he added, “We firmly believe access to education can change the trajectory of Parramore. Today, Parramore is at a disadvantage and mostly cut off from access to public education. Five years from now, with the new Orange Country Public School PK-8 School and UCF Downtown/Valencia, Parramore will have the best access to education in Central Florida. That is a game= changer. You simply cannot overstate the impact of this type of access and proximity to top-notch education. It changes the future of Parramore.”
A study provided by GAI Consultants, Inc. concludes the new campus would create roughly 2,000 new direct and indirect jobs, which would in turn help create an annual economic impact of $205 million. of that, $90 million would be in salaries and wages.
• The campus, which would be shared by UCF and Valencia College, would have room for 7,700 students.
• Of those, 5,400 would be UCF students, while 2,300 would be for Valencia College.
• UCF would offer 14 academic programs, 9 of which would be programs of strategic emphasis, including those in the fields of Health Services, Health Informatics, Digital Media and Game Design, Legal Studies, Communications and Social Work.
One third of the $60 million price tag will come from the community, which has already stepped up in a big way.
“When our Board first heard about Ucf downtown and the compelling vision of President Hitt and his team, we knew we wanted to help make this campus a reality,” Dr. Phillips’ President and CEO Kenneth D. Robinson said. “Our mission as an organization is to help transform lives, and in doing so, lift our entire community. We believe this gift to downtown is an investment in our children’s future.
Dr. Phillips Charities $3 million
Orange County Government $3 million
Valencia College $2 million
Orlando Magic $1.5 million
CFE Federal Credit Union $1.5 million
Florida Hospital $1.5 million
UCf Leadershop and Boards $1 million
Creative Village Development, LLC $500,000
Alan Ginsburg, Orlando Philanthropist $300,000
Orlando City Soccer Club $250,000
CNL Financial Group $250,000
Universal Orlando Foundation and Universal Orlando Resort $250,000
Dr. Bruce Douglas of Winter Park $100,000
Total Contributions $16 million
“These gifts have produced life-changing opportunities for so many of our students,” Hitt said.