City, school officials ponder possibility of downtown Orlando campus for UCF



ORLANDO, Fla. - A massive vacant lot in downtown Orlando that has been sitting empty for years could be the site of a new campus for the University of Central Florida.

There is early discussion that a UCF campus could go up where the old Amway Arena used to sit, along Amelia Street. It is the location where the city has said they will build its Creative Village.

"We think if done correctly this could benefit the university and downtown," said UCF spokesman Grant Heston.

While Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said it would mean big business for downtown, not everyone one favors the idea.

There are advocates for the Parramore community who worry that bringing a campus of UCF to their neighborhood will make it harder to bring in affordable housing to the Creative Village. That, they said, is a place where the housing is needed.

Some students who spoke with Channel 9's Karla Ray said they see potential in the vacant land, while Parramore advocates told Ray that they see broken promises.

"Unfortunately I think the real losers of this are the residents of Parramore who will continue to see gentrification," said Parramore advocate Mike Cantone.

Officials with the Fight Back Coalition said they worry that the potential expansion of UCF into the Parramore area could eliminate future affordable housing opportunities for residents.

"Is everything going to end up being other retail, high-end apartments, condos," said Parramore advocate Lawanna Gelzer.

The talk of adding UCF facilities on the land is in the early stage but school leaders are hoping funding from the state could help them study the possibility of coming to the Creative Village.

"We're looking in the next year to engage a consultant who could help us decide where we might want to go, what programs and activities would be best to locate down there if we were going to do that," said Heston.

Dyer and UCF officials recently visited Phoenix where Arizona State -- the only university larger than UCF -- has a downtown facility that is about a 30-minute drive from its main campus in Tempe.

"They have made a concerted effort to bring a large number of students to downtown Phoenix. They have over 10,000 students there," said Dyer.

Dyer said adding a facility here on the empty site of the future Creative Village would create an impact well beyond the properties physical boundaries.

"Think about having 9,000 or 10,000 UCF students in the downtown each and every day -- some living downtown. I think that would be wonderful," said Dyer.

Some students said school in a metro setting could be a big benefit when trying to find a job.

"I would feel like we're more in the area of businesses and stuff like that and it's definitely better outreach," said student Ryan Clavin.

But even at UCF's main campus, one of the largest universities in the country, some students said their current campus feels more comfortable than one in the city center.

"I think the reason a lot of students like this campus is it's more of a down-to-earth area and not as hectic as the city," said student Monique Hook.