Pointing Downtown

Downtown Orlando, here we expand. That’s the message University of Central Florida President John Hitt delivered in late September to officials, appropriately enough, at a downtown breakfast meeting.

There is no timetable for the expansion and few other specifics were outlined, but Hitt described UCF’s plans as a “game changer.” Valencia College also will be a partner in the move, meaning approximately 10,000 students from the two schools could study on a downtown campus.

While no location has been revealed, UCF is first considering the area named Creative Village, and UCF and Valencia have pledged to work with the nearby Parramore community along with a new K-8 school that will be built there. Currently, UCF’s Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy and the UCF Center for Emerging Media reside within the planned village.

The downtown initiative has its roots in a visit by Hitt last year to Arizona State University’s Phoenix campus, which enrolls more than 11,500 students. His desire to explore a robust downtown campus piqued the interest of Florida Senate President-Designate Andy Gardiner, Sen. David Simmons and House Speaker-designate Steve Crisafulli, a UCF alumnus. In turn, UCF received a $2 million state appropriation to perform a feasibility analysis.

Stay tuned.

Preeminent Successor

It’s official. On Jan. 1, Bernie Machen, University of Florida’s president since 2004, hands the baton to W. Kent Fuchs as UF continues its race toward national preeminence.

W. Kent Fuchs, future UF President

Since 2008, Fuchs served as provost of Cornell University, where he oversaw 14 academic colleges and schools, $2.2 billion in annual expenditures and $500 million in annual sponsored and organized research. He developed Cornell’s Strategic Plan for achieving academic preeminence as one of the world’s top 10 universities, launched a university-wide reimagining initiative that enhanced Cornell’s academic stature, and led an effort that resulted in the creation of a new graduate applied sciences campus. Also, Fuchs was personally responsible for raising $1 billion in gifts, including donations of $130 million, $80 million and $50 million.

He is expected to fit right in at UF, which received funding from the Florida Legislature to establish itself as one of the nation’s top 10 public research universities.

In the daily online Cornell Chronicle, Cornell President David Skorton offered parting praise: “Kent’s impact on all aspects of Cornell during his tenure as provost cannot be overstated. The legacy he will leave behind will be felt by all Cornellians, and by colleagues at other top research universities, for decades to come.”

SkyHouse Orlando is one of several multifamily projects across the region that are recently completed, under construction or on the horizon.

Crane Reaction

Business, as they say, is booming.  

In Tampa, the value of fiscal-2014 construction permits exceeded $2 billion, eclipsing the previous record of $1.78 billion set in 2007. The 34,500 permits encompass projects ranging from single-family homes to commercial developments. That activity doesn’t even include the “topping out” of SkyHouse Channelside, where a 23-floor, 320-unit luxury apartment building is halfway completed. Also, there’s late-stage discussion of a four-star hotel in Ybor City as part of continual area revival.

Earlier this year, a 320-unit SkyHouse was completed in Orlando. Also, for the first time in more than a half decade Zom Florida Inc. is constructing new luxury apartments — the $70 million-$100 million Baldwin Harbor at Orlando’s Baldwin Park. Construction work at Elan @ Audubon Park is slated to begin before year end, with 449-unit luxury apartments on a site formerly earmarked for industrial development near Orlando Fashion Square Mall. And, as just one more example, the Medical City’s Lake Nona Village continues to mature with the recently announced addition of another 12,600 square feet of commercial space.

Driven by heightened demand, construction activity — particularly commercial development and especially apartments — is in full recovery mode. That, of course, means communities and cities are growing, people are investing, and new jobs are being created.

Some hard numbers: In Metro Orlando alone, there are than 4,500 units currently under construction, according to Real Data LLC, based in Richmond, Va. (For more information about construction and land development, look for FORWARD FLORIDA’s Issue 6 in December.)

Arts Center Opening
Tiered seating in the Walt Disney Theater at Orlando’s new Dr. Phillips Center accommodates more than 2,700 people

Grand Opening

The orchestra has been cued, the curtain raised. And the spotlight is on. Show time for the Dr. Phillips Center for Performing Arts has finally arrived.

On Nov. 6, the $429 million center, which began construction in June 2011, celebrated its grand opening. Actually, the pomp and circumstance lasted a week, as a project that ebbed and flowed through political debate and economic uncertainty was unveiled in a series of special events.

The 300,000-square-foot building, located across from Orlando City Hall, contains the Walt Disney Theater, Alexis & Jim Pugh Theater, CNL Arts Plaza, School of the Arts and ancillary spaces. An acoustics hall highlights the planned phase two, with an undetermined timetable. The facility, funded with public (mostly tourist tax) and private charitable dollars, replaces the 88-year-old Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre.

Among the 30 largest metropolitan markets nationwide, Orlando was the only major city without a signature performing arts facility. Orange County commissioners approved the venue in July 2007. The wait is over.