$3 million approved for UCF to move forward with downtown campus plans

By Caroline Rowland, Reporter
Last Updated: Thursday, February 19, 2015, 6:41 PM EST

The University of Central Florida's downtown Orlando campus is one step closer to becoming a reality.

In a unanimous vote, the Florida Board of Governors on Thursday approved about $3 million in funding for UCF to move forward with the planning. The campus would be a part of the Creative Village, the area where the old Amway Center was located.

The parcel of land has sat empty for years, and the vision for residential, retail and commercial space relies on the UCF project moving forward.

In a Thursday morning meeting, the Board of Governors fired questions at UCF President John Hitt. Some of the biggest issues raised include where students would live and park.

The Florida Board of Governors is a 17-member governing board that serves as the governing body for the State University System of Florida, which includes all public universities in the state.

The campus is expected to have more than 11,000 students. Private housing is a part of the project plans, but there currently are no plans for dorms.

Several of the board members expressed concerns over making sure housing isn't too expensive for students.

Another big issue brought up in Thursday's meeting was tuition. The Board of Governors wants to make sure the students don't absorb the cost of the massive project.

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer spoke of the economic impact the project would have on downtown Orlando. Orange County Public Schools Superintendent Barbara Jenkins also spoke at the meeting.

Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-District 13, has supported the project.

"Ultimately, the Legislature will decide whether they want to do this — for us, the planning money is a huge first step," Gardiner said. "It's an endorsement. If we continue on, it will happen."

The project is expected to cost about $210 million. Final approval is still several steps away, including approval from the Legislature. The project wasn't included in Gov. Rick Scott's $77 million budget.

"We think the support of the Board of Governors — it allows us to potentially have 15,000 students in downtown Orlando," Gardiner said. "We think it's the future of downtown."

Creative Village has sat empty for almost three years since the old Amway Center was imploded. Orlando city officials said it was expected to sit empty because of the market at the time it was demolished.

"We were ahead of the market, but we wanted to take advantage of federal funds at the time — grant money for infrastructure and that infrastructure now being created," said Thomas Chatmon, the executive director of the Downtown Development Board.

The project includes a new Parramore elementary school, new residential units, retail space, office space, hotels, parks and campuses for UCF and Valencia College. The funding from the state is integral to moving the project forward.

 "Creative Village is a game-changer for downtown, and this just puts us one step closer," Chatmon said.

The Legislature is expected to take on the issue when session begins.