'Game Changer:' UCF to Pursue Expansion in Downtown Orlando
The University of Central Florida will move forward with plans for an expanded downtown campus to enhance educational opportunities for students and stimulate downtown Orlando, President John C. Hitt announced Tuesday.
Hitt described UCF’s plans as a “game changer” for downtown. Valencia College will be a partner in the expansion, and approximately 10,000 students from the two schools could study downtown.
“Today, through another bold collaboration, we explore a vision for UCF in Orlando that could energize downtown and redefine its future,” Hitt told a crowd of community and business leaders Tuesday at a downtown breakfast.
Plans for UCF Downtown are contingent upon receiving the necessary state funding and also approvals from the university’s Board of Trustees and the Florida Board of Governors, which oversees the state’s 12 public universities.
Hitt said UCF is assessing which academic programs would benefit from moving downtown, and the university will continue conversations with staff and faculty members as part of that process.
The timing of any such moves is not yet known. What is known is that UCF is first considering the Creative Village area of downtown Orlando, and that UCF and Valencia pledge to work closely with the Parramore community and the new K-8 school that will be built there.
“Valencia and UCF desire to be vital forces for improving the lives and livelihoods of the residents who live nearby,” Hitt said.
“We are just delighted to be a part of this exciting new project in downtown Orlando,” said Sanford Shugart, president of Valencia College. “Our results, working together in partnership — UCF, Valencia and Orange County Public Schools — have been recognized around the country. On this foundation we hope to build the future economy of Orlando and greater Central Florida.
“When you bring the power of that collaboration together to reactivate the west side of downtown, there’s no telling what we can accomplish, not just for our students and the future of the city, but for the people who live and work downtown. We’ll start by engaging the people in the Parramore community to find out what programs would be transformational for their lives and their families.”
UCF Downtown also presents potential opportunities for new academic programs. In one example, UCF will be designing a new program for young men and women with disabilities to allow them to attend classes and participate fully in college life.
This program “will offer an immersion in the college experience and will enable these deserving students to develop the life skills, the career tools, and the independence they need for a fulfilling future,” Hitt said.
The downtown initiative has its roots in a visit from President Hitt last year to Arizona State University’s Phoenix campus, which enrolls more than 11,500 students.
“Phoenix city leaders told us that the campus had done more to … enliven the economy and culture, than either the new Major League Baseball stadium or the NBA arena that had been located downtown,” Hitt said.
“Soon, our desire to explore a robust downtown campus for Orlando piqued the interest of state Senate President Andy Gardiner, along with Senator David Simmons and House Speaker-designate Steve Crisafulli, a UCF alumnus. Thanks to them and to the Central Florida Legislative Delegation, we received a state appropriation ($2 million) to perform a feasibility analysis that has brought us here today.”
When thinking of programs for which a downtown move would benefit students, Hitt said it’s natural to think of digital and visual arts as complements to UCF’s Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy and Center for Emerging Media, which are already located downtown.
Hitt also said he believes “WUCF TV, with its strong community emphasis as the home of PBS in Central Florida, would thrive with a downtown location.”
Furthermore, “when we consider the array of city, county, state, and federal government offices located downtown, it makes sense to consider how our students in public service disciplines” might benefit from being closer to those offices and internship sites, Hitt said.
UCF will provide updates to the campus community and the public as plans progress.