The University of North Florida expects to have students taking classes in the downtown Barnett Bank building in January, planting the flag of another university in a three-block area of downtown.
The city’s Downtown Investment Authority on Wednesday approved a $380,000 loan to help UNF set up classrooms and a center for entrepreneurship on the fourth and fifth floors of the 18-story building, which has stood vacant for years but is undergoing top-to-bottom renovation.
The university also received a $1 million pledge from Luther and Blanche Coggin to support the start-up of the UNF Center for Entrepreneurship, which will be named for the Coggins.
UNF’s commitment to the Barnett Bank building adds to the impact of higher education in downtown revitalization.
Jacksonville University began offering classes last year at the SunTrust Tower. Florida State College at Jacksonville will use the Lerner Building on Adams Street after the owner finishes renovating that structure for a ground-floor restaurant and upper-floor student housing. UNF’s classes at the Barnett Bank building will be near the Museum of Contemporary Art, which is part of UNF.
“This is just a continuation of what they’ve already started,” DIA Chief Executive Officer Aundra Wallace said of UNF’s presence in downtown.
The Barnett building will have Master of Business Administration and Master of Science in Management classes. UNF expects 150 students will be at the building.
The center for entrepreneurship will bring together all the colleges at UNF to help people move forward with their early stage ideas.
“It will be open to the community,” Coggin College of Business Dean Mark Dawkins told the DIA board. “It’s our belief that very good ideas from entrepreneurs come from anywhere, so we’re creating a center for entrepreneurship not only for ideas that come from students, but ideas that come from the community.”
He said that compared to similar centers affiliated with other universities, UNF added the ability for its students to work as interns at the center so they get first-hand experience.
“That’s really the difference-maker for us,” he said.
The $380,000 from the city will be a “forgivable loan,” meaning the amount that must be repaid will decrease the longer UNF is at the Barnett building. The loan will go away entirely in five years.
The city also provided financial assistance to help JU set up in downtown and has supported the renovation of the Lerner Building that FSCJ will lease for student housing.
FSCJ expects to open the first-floor cafe in mid-March and the student housing in the fall semester. The restaurant will be part of the school’s culinary arts program.