Popping the “campus bubble” and transforming a neighborhood

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UCF and Valencia’s joint campus is set to welcome more than 7,000 students to Creative Village August 26. School and city officials hope the campus will bring an economic boost to the surrounding neighborhoods and give neighboring residents academic opportunities. Pictured is the mixed-use UnionWest at Creative Village building which will house students, hold classes and open retail shops on the ground floor. (Photo by S.T. Cardinal)

When Creative Village officially opens for classes on Aug. 26, students majoring in fields from digital media to health-services administration will be welcomed to Downtown Orlando.

College and university campuses have a history of being separated from the rest of the community when based in a large city (think the phrase “town and gown”), and students in higher education can become trapped in “the bubble” of the campus.

At UCF’s main campus, almost everything a student needs is right on campus: restaurants, doctor’s offices, entertainment, recreation centers, an arboretum and countless other amenities are within walking distance. The only reason to leave campus is to head to the grocery store or movie theater, and those are just down the street from the main campus.

“In college, it’s really easy to fall into that — class, maybe a couple clubs, home, sleep; that’s it. You can get into that cycle,” said Sierra Scott, a senior legal-studies major at UCF. “[Creative Village] is definitely popping the bubble of what you would call the ‘main-campus bubble.’ Honestly, you’re out in the real world; you’re getting those social skills. It’s more than just an academic skill.”

Creative Village is a 68-acre community centered around a joint UCF/Valencia campus. An influx of more than 7,000 students in Creative Village will undoubtedly have an impact on the area itself. Such an influx of students will bring economic activity to a previously lightly populated area which has sat empty since the Amway Arena was demolished in 2012.

The Parramore area west of I4, where Creative Village will be situated, has historically been an impoverished area. The median household income in the Parramore trade area was $22,103 in 2013, according to a report in the Parramore Comprehensive Neighborhood Plan.

Creative Village isn’t a standard case of gentrification, though. City and school officials echoed the same sentiment when asked about the future of Parramore. They want the families surrounding Creative Village to be integrated into the higher learning of Creative Village, not pushed out.

“We’re next to a variety of neighborhoods where opportunity has always been a challenge,” said Sandy Shugart, president of Valencia College. “We think our two institutions combined offer the best shot at a genuine opportunity for real economic mobility for the communities that surround us here. We need to be visibly present in their community. It’s theirs.”

Regina Hill is the city commissioner whose district encompasses the Parramore neighborhood. She said she thinks when families in Parramore see the college campus in their neighborhood, rather than in magazines or TV, they could see it as a realistic goal for their future.

“All those students are coming here to transform their lives, but I believe, as they integrate into the community, that will become tangible for all the residents here in Parramore in a positive manner,” Hill said. “UCF and their students aren’t new to Parramore. Now they’ll just be living here in Parramore. They have already been connecting with many of our non-profits and coming in and doing work.”

The surrounding population will have the ability to come into the campus, and students will be able to benefit from surrounding schools, businesses and organizations to enhance their future opportunities as well. Within a mile of Creative Village is the FAMU College of Law, the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida and hundreds of businesses in the Central Business District.

For the FAMU College of Law, an undergraduate legal-studies degree offered in Creative Village could potentially serve as a pipeline to FAMU’s law program. Nicky Boothe Perry, interim dean of FAMU Law, said that UCF is one of FAMU Law’s biggest feeder schools.

“We already get a substantial number of UCF graduates who enroll and recirculate in the College of Law,” Boothe Perry said. “So, now, with them being right downtown in Creative Village, it just provides a better logistical opportunity for the students to come over and see our beautiful law school.”

There are 30 legal companies in the vicinity of UCF’s main campus compared to more than 750 around Downtown, according to the Orlando Economic Development Commission. Boothe Perry said one of the most important aspects of a downtown campus is exposure. Students walking downtown between or after classes could see more realistic job opportunities than they could by browsing online.

“There’s so many law firms downtown,” Scott said. “The thing that I like the most about the breadth of opportunity that we have with the law firms is it ranges from family law, divorce law — so many different kinds of law that even if I don’t know what kind of law I’m gonna go into, I have the opportunity to go talk to as many different lawyers as I want to.”

Students will be exposed to various internship options and could potentially give back to the surrounding community. One major being offered at the campus will certainly help to foster a charitable relationship between students and the underserved downtown: nonprofit management.

Michael Dippy is the executive director at IDignity, a nonprofit which helps those without means receive an identification card. He also mentioned the benefits of the exposure to different walks of life that a downtown campus has on students.

“I think anytime something is actually happening in your physical neighborhood, it causes more engagement. It’s not something that’s a half hour away; it’s right down the street from you,” Dippy said. “It’s part of your community. You’re living in it. You’re a part of it. I think that leads to even more engagement but also new ideas and new perspectives. I think that’s gonna be a real boost to the local nonprofits.”

Creative Village will not only boost the economy and hopefully bring new opportunities to surrounding residents, but the culture of the area may change.

“I think bringing 7,000 students here to be part of this community, centered in downtown but part of Parramore as well, is going to bring a whole lot of energy and enthusiasm, first of all,” said Thad Seymour Jr., the interim president of UCF. “It also brings — think of these as resources and assets. Both our students and our faculty, who have a lot of experience and a lot of passion and want to be good neighbors and good participants in helping define and build the future of Parramore as the residents want it to be built. Not to come in and oppose our will on it, but rather be good partners and supporters of that effort.”

Below is a list of the majors and skills training programs coming to Creative Village.

UCF undergraduate degrees

UCF graduate degrees

Valencia accelerated skills training programs

Advanced manufacturing

Transportation and Logistics

Valencia Associate’s Degrees

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