UF wants to build a first-of-its-kind campus in West Palm: Here are facts about the plan

UF wants to build a first-of-its-kind campus in West Palm: Here are facts about the plan

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The University of Florida, Palm Beach County and the city of West Palm Beach are in talks to bring a UF campus to the downtown area of West Palm Beach.

What kind of classes would be offered?

The classes would be for graduate students in financial services, financial technology and Artificial Intelligence (AI).

UF President Kent Fuchs said it will be an opportunity to offer a graduate school for students who eventually start businesses and occupy high-level jobs brought to the area.

The university said it is now trying to attract 100 new AI faculty “to advance our ambition to build ‘AI Across the Curriculum.’”

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How big a campus are we talking?

While UF has branch campuses throughout Florida, university officials said this is the “first of this nature.”

They said there would be 1,000 graduate students studying full time and more than 100 academic staff.

Eventually, they said, they’d need a million square feet of buildings in downtown West Palm Beach.

Where does the deal stand?

County and city commissioners unanimously voted for the preliminary plans recently but details need to be worked out.

What would Palm Beach County gain?

Fuchs said he envisions it would generate jobs, attract companies and develop the region’s economy, while helping the university achieve a level of quality in tech and finance that it can’t do from Gainesville.

Kelly Smallridge, president and chief executive officer of the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County, said a UF expansion would help the county by boosting the number of young people with degrees in in-demand fields such as financial technology, artificial intelligence, data analytics and cyber security.

The Palm Beach Post editorial board said it would have the potential to create jobs for residents of underserved neighborhoods just north of downtown. Its students, faculty and other employees would provide customers for downtown shops, restaurants, bars and other entertainment venues. The new arrivals would populate the downtown’s recently redesigned streetscapes, with their widened sidewalks, expanded outdoor dining and plaza-like roadways. In short, the school would invigorate what’s now, at night, a too-quiet section of downtown and benefit the entire city center.

Editorial:Gators on downtown sidewalks? Yes, pave way for UF campus

When would it happen?

Fuchs laid out an aggressive timeline that would have the university leasing space downtown in the fall of 2022 and opening a new campus in the fall of 2026.

Where would it be built?

On the quiet western edge of downtown West Palm Beach, along Tamarind Avenue, between the Dreyfoos School of the Arts and Datura Street. The area is near the courthouses and across Tamarind from the future transportation/office/residential/retail hub known as the Transit-Oriented Village, with its stations for trains, buses and trolleys.

The county, city and university are talking about using 2.23 acres of land on seven parcels the city owns off Tamarind and Fern and Evernia Streets. The city voted to give that land to UF for free if the university got nearby land from the county and from real estate developer Jeff Greene. That area is about five acres on Government Hill downtown, which consists of three blocks on the east side of Tamarind, from Clematis Street to the north to Fern Street to the south. The county voted to give that land to UF for free if the school agreed to use it for educational purposes only.

Combined, the land is valued at about $17.7 million.

How did it all happen?

Palm Beach County Mayor David Kerner conceived of the idea after learning that Fuchs led a similar urban expansion when he was provost at Cornell University in New York. UF officials said they already were looking at building a similar off-campus school, considering Miami and Orlando.

Fuchs oversaw the expansion of Cornell University’s urban footprint with the establishment of Cornell Tech in New York City in 2012. Fuchs was provost of Ithaca, New York-based Cornell from 2009 through 2014.

Cornell Tech is a design, law, business and technology campus of Cornell and is based on Roosevelt Island in Manhattan.

What’s it mean for other higher educational institutions in the area?

A letter from PBA’s president, Dr. Debra Schwinn, said “we look forward to hearing more about any university being considered for our region, specifically how PBA can partner to bring the best education possible to WPB/PBC.”

FAU, in a statement to The Palm Beach Post, said: “Florida Atlantic University offers a wide array of first-class degrees at all academic levels. The university already serves thousands of students from the West Palm Beach area and is fully equipped to expand as necessary to meet increased demand.”

Fuchs, UF’s president, said UF would work to partner with, not overshadow, existing universities in Palm Beach County.

What’s UF’s interest in Scripps Research Institute in Jupiter?

It’s still a bit cloudy but university officials said UF will assume “oversight” of Scripps.

They’d work together on grants and contracts. They said recently they are in the process of finalizing a legal transfer of the facility to UF. It could be called the University of Florida Scripps.

Officials said this is “about reputation for us.” They said it has “got to be the best in the world,” better than Scripps Research in La Jolla, Calif. “This can’t be a second-class branch.”

What they’re saying:

UF President Kent Fuchs: The downtown plan represented a “once-in-a-century opportunity for our state, for West Palm Beach and for the University of Florida.” He said the opportunity for the university, city and county would be “not just transformational but magical.”

County Mayor Dave Kerner: “The University of Florida deserves a city and a county and a community that is excited about its achievements and excited about what it can bring to this community.”

County Commissioner Mack Bernard: “It’s about the future for Palm Beach County. This is about the kids that haven’t been born yet. This is about the state of Florida.”

Commissioner Maria Marino: “This is really a no-brainer for us, and I’m just excited for you to come here. The opportunity for you all to do what you’re going to do with Scripps is very exciting for our end of the county.”

West Palm Beach Mayor Keith James: “To have an educational institution of the caliber of the University of Florida located in our downtown will benefit the economic landscape of this city for years to come.” Students “can now put West Palm Beach on their list to get the kind of jobs and educational opportunities that they want.”

Kelly Smallridge, president and chief executive officer of the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County: “Make no mistake, the need to offer innovative degrees in these fields from a leading national university is a real one. It’s a challenge for companies that are already here, who reportedly send their employees out of state for advanced degrees or import people with a higher skill set. That, in turn, puts increased pressure on our housing crisis and gives the out-of-state candidate an advantage to fill that job.”

Does UF have other campuses outside Gainesville?

Yes, UF has a number of off-campus undergraduate and masters programs around Florida and even abroad. They are:

  • Medicine, nursing and pharmacy schools in Jacksonville
  • Pharmacy schools in Orlando and Seminole
  • Agricultural schools in Davie, Plant City, Wimauma, Fort Pierce, Apopka and Milton
  • Dental center in Hialeah
  • Engineering school in Orlando and Shalimar
  • Architectural schools in Orlando, Sarasota and Vicenza, Italy
  • Arts school in Miami
  • Business administration school in Sunrise

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