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The Florida Board of Governors on Wednesday approved UCF’s plans for a new downtown Orlando campus, with the board’s chairman saying the project “will create a pathway to success for our students and good return on investment for our state.”

The approval signals the board’s confidence in a plan that promises to bring greater academic and professional opportunities to students and serve as a catalyst for development in downtown Orlando.

“Twenty-four years ago yesterday, I became UCF’s president. In all the years since, few moments have been as important as today,” UCF President John C. Hitt said. “Today, we can plant a seed in downtown Orlando that will benefit our students, community and state for decades to come.”

UCF has earned $16 million in community support to help fund construction of a new academic building that will be the centerpiece of the downtown campus, which will serve about 7,700 UCF and Valencia College students. UCF intends to raise $20 million in community support to go along with $20 million from the state and $20 million in UCF resources.

The Board of Governors, which oversees Florida’s 12 public universities, approved the proposed campus during a meeting on UCF’s main campus. The board’s vote paves the way for the Legislature’s approval of the state’s $20 million share. Pending approvals, the campus will open in fall 2018.

“UCF has put forward a persuasive proposal, making the case that this project will create a pathway to success for our students and good return on investment for our state,” said Board of Governors Chair Tom Kuntz. “Our Board has asked good questions and done its due diligence, and UCF has responded to our concerns by making the project stronger.”

UCF Board of Trustees Chairman Marcos Marchena praised the campus’ impact on the quality of education through students’ proximity to internships and field-related work downtown, which he said gives them a “leg up” on job opportunities after graduation. He also lauded how the campus will bring higher education closer to students in a traditionally underserved area.

“I grow more convinced as I get older that education is one of the few real ways to change the life of an individual, of a family, and in fact of an entire community,” he said. “I believe this campus has the potential for creating that kind of change.”

Students will be able to take classes at Valencia College and UCF on the same campus, which can save them thousands of dollars compared with the cost of enrolling only at a state university.

“For me and many of my peers, every dollar matters – and this model is an exciting way to become a UCF Knight even more affordably, in a professionally focused environment. It’s a win-win,” said Student Government Association President Cait Zona, who also noted that many students already live, work and volunteer in downtown Orlando.

UCF Downtown will be built on a portion of the Creative Village, a 68-acre parcel in the Parramore community that was cleared for redevelopment when Orlando’s old NBA arena was torn down.

UCF Downtown will offer students an innovative learning environment within walking distance of a wide array of internship and job opportunities in fields such as digital media, communication, public service and health-related programs.

“This project best aligns academic offerings with industry needs and neighborhood synergies,” said UCF Provost and Executive Vice President Dale Whittaker. “And it provides our students with hands-on, high-impact learning experiences in a way that is just not possible on our main campus.”

During the past two months, several community partners have contributed to UCF Downtown.

On Tuesday, Dr. Phillips Charities announced a $3 million donation. The Orlando Magic, CFE Federal Credit Union and Florida Hospital each pledged $1.5 million. University leaders and board members have made personal contributions totaling more than $1 million. Orange County commissioners voted unanimously to contribute $3 million, and Valencia College will contribute $2 million.

Other contributors to the campus include Creative Village Development, Orlando philanthropist Alan Ginsburg, Orlando City Soccer Club, CNL Financial Group, Universal Orlando Foundation and Universal Orlando Resort, Dr. Bruce Douglas of Winter Park, and Coca-Cola.

Additionally, the value of in-kind contributions of land and infrastructure by the City of Orlando and the developers of Creative Village is approximately $75 million.

UCF will share the campus with Valencia College, which will offer programs in digital media, health information technology and culinary and hospitality, including workforce training and other certificates to increase access to education in the immediate downtown area.

“We believe we have the most powerful partnership in higher education here in Orlando,” Valencia President Sandy Shugart said of the relationship between UCF and Valencia. “This project is the next step in realizing that vision fully.”

The new academic building at UCF Downtown will complement a renovated Center for Emerging Media building where UCF’s nationally ranked graduate video gaming school, the Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy, is located.