July 11, 2020

Higher Education

UCF/Valencia's downtown campus: Universities as community economic engines

Amy Keller | 5/27/2020

For its part, Valencia moved its entire Culinary Arts and Hospitality program downtown. With a $1.5-million donation from Walt Disney World Resort, the program — known as the Walt Disney World Center for Culinary Arts and Hospitality — now occupies 50,000 square feet on three floors of the Union- West building.

Shugart say the building’s private developer, Craig Ustler, gave the school three floors at “deep” bargain prices — effectively allowing Valencia to triple the size of its hospitality school in what would normally be a “very expensive downtown space.” The culinary playground is filled with fancy kitchen equipment, including bread-baking ovens and an Italian ice cream-making machine. Other novel features include a microgreen growing cabinet, a chocolate crafting area and a mixology lab, where students can learn the art of bartending.

Hurdles and headway

There have been some hiccups along the way. Quick-service food options were slow to open at UnionWest and other issues — ranging from slow elevators to sluggish plumbing — prompted student complaints. UnionWest ended up crediting students $150.

The presence of homeless people in the neighborhood has also sparked concerns about student safety on campus. And while travel between downtown and UCF's flagship campus proved challenging during the first few days, the school worked with its shuttle vendor to make sure it adhered more strictly to the schedule.

As they work out the kinks, university and city officials are also focused on another goal — bolstering the adjacent Parramore community without gentrifying it out of existence.

Poverty runs deep in the historically black neighborhood sandwiched between I-4 and Orange Blossom Trail. Until 2017, Parramore didn’t even have its own elementary school, much less a college campus. Now that it has both, Shugart and others are working to make sure local residents benefit from the educational resources.

Valencia has created scholarships for students from surrounding neighborhoods — as has Orlando hotelier Harris Rosen. The college also launched an “accelerated skills training program” to prepare individuals for living-wage jobs, such as building circuit boards or operating forklifts and pallet jacks used in automated warehouses.

Trainees can get stipends from the city so they “continue to feed their families” during their six to eight weeks of training, Shugart says. “Our plan was to reduce the opportunity cost to students in the program, so the program has to be to be short in terms of calendar length,” he says. “They can’t take three years to achieve their dream.”

There’s still more to come at UCF downtown and Creative Village. The city plans to build a 2½-acre Central Park, and two market-rate apartment projects are in the works.

Ustler Development, which is leading the Creative Village development team, is working with Allen Morris Co. on a $108-million apartment building called the Julian, with 409 units that will overlook the park. Mill Creek Residential recently broke ground on a 292-unit apartment complex called Modera Creative Village at West Amelia Street and Ronald Blocker Avenue. The 256-unit Amelia Court apartments at Creative Village, which opened last summer, provides a mix of affordable and market-rate units.

Eventually, the city plans to repurpose the nearby Bob Carr Performing Arts Center and incorporate it into Creative Village. With EA’s pending arrival, there’s been talk of transforming it into an esports arena, but Dyer says the city hasn’t committed to anything. “We’re going to be very thoughtful. There’s no lack of people saying, ‘We’d like to have the Bob Carr,’ ” the mayor says.

It remains to be seen, however, how the COVID-19 pandemic will affect the pace of development. The downtown campus has been eerily quiet for months — but developers like Ustler remain bullish about its long-term economic impact. “Health care or education — those are the two anchors that we’re seeing that just fortify these urban districts, and they just last for a really long time,” says Ustler. “It’s not like a corporation that defaults on its incentive deal and leaves town.”

UCF/Valencia Downtown Campus

Enrollment: More than 7,000 students

Buildings:

UnionWest, a 15-story, privately developed, mixed-use building contains about 600 student beds, 105,000 square feet of academic and student support space and 12,000 square feet of commercial/retail space. Cost: $105 million

The four-story Dr. Phillips Academic Commons contains classroom and study space, a library, a moot court and academic offices. Cost: $66 million

The revamped UCF Communication and Media Building, formerly the Center for Emerging Media, houses the Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy and the Nicholson School of Communication and Media. Cost: $5.75 million

The four-story UCF and Parramore parking garage can accommodate up to 580 vehicles. Cost: $14.6 million

 

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