Downtown Campus Plans Take Center Stage at Spring Convocation

Valencia students, faculty and staff were given a preview of the plans for a new UCF-Valencia campus, when leaders from Valencia, UCF, the city of Orlando and Creative Village spoke at yesterday’s Spring Convocation on the college’s West Campus.

The proposed UCF-Valencia downtown campus would be located on a 20-acre site within the Creative Village, once home to the old Amway Arena that was imploded in 2012.

“We will be creating the first urban higher education experience in Central Florida, which doesn’t exist now,” said West Campus president, Falecia Williams.

Williams said that the downtown campus would be closely linked to the West Campus in its mission and programs. In fact, several West Campus programs will move downtown once the new campus opens, including Culinary Management, Baking and Pastry Management, Hospitality Management and Restaurant Management. Graphics Technology, which is currently offered on both the West and East campuses, will also be relocated. Williams said that students will also be able to complete their A.A. degrees at the downtown campus, and mentioned opportunities for adding A.A. pre-majors, continuing education courses and short-term certificates that would complement UCF’s academic programs and meet workforce needs in the community.

UCF assistant vice provost Paul Lartonoix said that the university will determine this spring which programs and services would be relocated downtown. Meanwhile, UCF has hired consultant group Cannon Design to start designing the joint-use campus and will issue a request for proposals for an architect in July.

Fred Kittinger, senior associate vice president for University Relations at UCF, said that the downtown campus will include the region’s first-of-its-kind program to allow students with intellectual disabilities to attend courses and achieve educational credits that could lead to meaningful employment.

Williams said one of the biggest goals for Valencia is to improve the lives of the citizens of Parramore by offering programs and services that will provide significant benefit, citing a need to help people become “quickly employable” and to “raise the level of entrepreneurship.”

Kathy DeVault, director of strategic partnerships for the City of Orlando, gave an overview of downtown’s evolution in the 12 years since Mayor Buddy Dyer took office, citing the construction of the new Amway Arena, the Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center, the renovation of the Citrus Bowl and the construction of a new soccer stadium slated to open in 2016. Looking ahead, she said the city intends to support Orlando’s growing digital media and technology industries in and around the Creative Village, with education as the anchor.

“All of a sudden the stars have aligned,” DeVault said, referring to UCF’s and Valencia’s interest in opening a downtown campus. “This has the potential to be big.”

In discussing Mayor Dyer’s efforts to expand mass transit options, DeVault mentioned a new “Lime Line” that will break grown soon in the Creative Village, as part of the “fare-free” bus rapid transit system. The Lime Line could potentially help students and employees at the new downtown campus travel easily to other parts of downtown.

During a question-and-answer session, West Campus professor Aaron Powell, who also manages the Facebook page “Orlando Bike Coalition,” asked the panelists about the “bike-ability” of the downtown campus site and “what they plan to do to expand connectivity” to surrounding communities such as College Park and Thorton Park.

Acknowledging the importance of bikes to students, Craig Ustler, who leads the Creative Village development team, said that the street designs planned for the Creative Village would have not only bike lanes, but a bike share program (short-term bicycle rentals) and bike parking.

The theme for the convocation, painted on black doors adorned with quotes and comments from students, was, “Opportunity Knocks: Where will it lead?” Stephanie Sookhram, West Campus Student Government Association president, summed up her hopes of where it would lead by writing, “Confidence, strength, a new life.”