UCF moving ahead with plans for downtown campus

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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — The University of Central Florida is moving ahead with plans for a multimillion dollar expanded campus in downtown Orlando that the UCF president called "a game changer" for the school and the community.

University President John Hitt announced the joint initiative with Valencia College during a Tuesday breakfast with community leaders. Hitt said the expansion would bring in 10,000 students from the two schools to study downtown.

"Add the number of faculty and support staff members who would serve them, and we see an invigorating presence that will add vitality to Orlando's flourishing downtown," Hitt said.

Plans for the satellite campus depend on UCF receiving necessary state funding and approval from the university's board of trustees and the Florida Board of Governors. State legislators approved $2 million for a feasibility analysis earlier this year. The project could eventually cost more than $100 million.

"Without funding, we cannot proceed with an expanded downtown campus," Hitt said during his speech to area civic leaders. "And, even with funding, we will need the active engagement of you, our civic-minded supporters, along with your businesses and organizations." Hitt said afterward that private support would likely be sought for features such as student housing.

Hitt said the idea for the venture first began to percolate during a visit he made last year to Arizona State University's Phoenix campus, which enrolls more than 11,500 students.

If the downtown plans come to fruition, it would add to an already close relationship between UCF and Valencia.

Among four-year universities, UCF — located in east Orlando — had the second-largest undergraduate enrollment in the country in 2013 at 59,740 students.

Valencia is the third-largest of Florida's 28 community colleges in student headcount, with nearly 60,000 credit-seeking students. With a main campus also in east Orlando, it is UCF's top source of transfer students, sending 35 percent of its graduates to UCF.

"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," Valencia College President Sanford Shugart said.

Hitt said officials are still assessing which academic programs would be included in the venture, but acknowledged digital and visual arts programs would complement its existing Florida Interactive Academy and Center for Emerging Media that is already located downtown.

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