“Ididn’t expect it to be this big,” says UCF student Khadesha Galloway while looking around the lobby of UCF Downtown’s new UnionWest at Creative Village for the first time during Wednesday’s check-in for new residents.

“Living and taking classes all in one building, it’s going to take some time to get used to, but I’m looking forward to meeting new people, figuring out downtown and visiting the courthouse,” says the aspiring lawyer who is majoring in legal studies.

After she drove with her mom that morning from their house in Brandon, an unincorporated area east of Tampa, she said the new UnionWest looks like a great place to live while she earns her bachelor’s degree.

With 15 stories dedicated for classrooms, residence halls, offices and restaurants, UnionWest at 601 W. Livingston St. is the tallest building in downtown Orlando west of Interstate 4. More than 600 UCF and Valencia students, who are sharing the campus, are moving into UnionWest’s top 10 floors during the next few days leading up to the start of the fall semester on Aug. 26. More than 7,000 students are registered at the new campus.

The building was privately developed, but housing is managed by UCF Housing and Residence Life, who trained on-site resident assistants who are students. The tower is next to the new Dr. Phillips Academic Commons and near the remodeled UCF Communication and Media Building, formerly called the Center for Emerging Media.

“We’re thrilled to welcome our first student residents to UCF Downtown,” says Mike Kilbride, assistant vice president, UCF Downtown. “As a former RA myself, I know that living on campus gives students the opportunity to connect and engage during their time at UCF. We’ve got a great group of RAs and residents who will transform UnionWest from a building into a place students can call home at our new campus.

UCF Downtown is part of the developing Creative Village, a public/private partnership for retail, commercial, office, residential and educational space west of Interstate 4, generally the area near where the Amway Arena formerly stood on Livingston Street.

While temperatures edged into the low-90s outside, UCF staffers inside handed out bottles of water and smoothies to students, parents and others coming into the cool building, making check-in a breeze Galloway says.

While temperatures Wednesday edged into the low-90s outside, UCF staffers inside handed out bottles of water and smoothies to students, parents and others coming into the cool building, making check-in a breeze Galloway says.

“The line was long but kept moving,” she says. “They had a lot of help [moving items to residents’ rooms] and a set way of getting people in and out.”

Galloway has a head start in her career. During high school she also took college courses at Armwood High School, so when she graduated in May she earned both her high school diploma and an A.A. degree, moving her two years ahead in her educational path.

She says she was accepted to several schools, ultimately choosing UCF because of its affordability and other factors: “It’s not too far from home — but I can still get away. Plus, it has a great law program. I’m downtown where all my higher-level courses are and there’s opportunities for internships and law offices to get into.”

Galloway had an early taste of university life during the summer when she took some classes on the main campus and lived in the Nike community. But now with the fall semester starting Monday, living downtown “I’ll be more focused and closer to opportunities.”

Although she doesn’t have a driver’s license, she plans to make full use of the university’s shuttle system to the main campus to attend football games, join in activities, and also to meet up with some new acquaintances she made over the summer and with a friend from middle school living on the main campus.

UnionWest houses key student resources, including Counseling and Psychological Services and First Stop, a joint UCF-Valencia space that includes admissions and financial aid. The building is centrally located downtown near the business district and Church Street Station, with public transit options available, including SunRail and LYMMO.

The first move-in day for the main campus is Friday.

After sharing a room during her summer stay on the main campus, Galloway says there is another thing she likes about her new place: “I’m looking forward to having my own room!”