Jacksonville University President Tim Cost is expanding the boundaries of the school’s campus, literally and figuratively.
Cost, who took the helm of the 80-year-old liberal arts school more than a year ago in February 2013, is considering acquiring property south, north, east and northeast of the 198-acre riverfront Arlington campus. He also is working with city leaders on the appearance and safety of the neighborhood surrounding the school.
Cost also is in the early stages of considering moving some graduate-level programs Downtown. “The opportunity for JU Downtown is attractive,” he said, specifying the location might be more applicable for graduate-level functions.
He did not have details of a Downtown presence, but a move there would be a homecoming. JU was founded in 1934 in Downtown as a junior college offering night classes. It soon became a four-year, co-ed institution and moved to Arlington in the early 1950s.
The Arlington project seems to be more advanced.
“We are digging in. We are trying to buy land,” he told members of the Economic Roundtable of Jacksonville on Tuesday at a meeting on campus. “We are investing in Arlington.”
The meeting featured Cost and University of North Florida President John Delaney talking about their institutions’ roles in workforce development.
After the meeting, Cost said his goal is for JU to be a driving force for positive growth in Arlington, one of the city’s first suburbs and one that has lost population and retail growth to other parts of town. JU is at 2800 University Blvd. N., near some neighborhoods noted for criminal activity.
“I am looking at all the opportunities,” Cost said of extending JU’s influence.
Cost said he has been working for some time on the plans and he intends to roll out the efforts this summer with Mayor Alvin Brown, Office of Economic Development CEO Ted Carter, city officials, community leaders and the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.
Cost said Donald Horner, JU chief government and community affairs officer, has been working on the project.
“The university has played back on its heels in making itself available to the community,” he said. “I believe JU ought to be aggressive in its vision for the economy of the area.”
Cost mentioned landscaping, safety, street widening and better lighting as some of the improvements. The project has been referred to as “Operation Dolphin” and “Dolphin Corridor” on city schedules, a nod to JU’s mascot.
“The community is welcoming us,” Cost said. “We have to make ourselves as strong as we can be.”
Cost has been talking about supporting the Arlington area since he took the position to lead the 4,200-student university.
Cost is a 1981 graduate of JU and was serving on its board of trustees when he was named president. Cost was most recently a consultant with PepsiCo in Purchase, N.Y., and came to JU with 31 years of experience there and with Bristol-Myers Squibb, Kodak, Aramark, Wyeth and Pharmacia.
Upon taking the JU presidency, he soon announced the $85 million ASPIRE campaign designed to raise funds for scholarships and research, health sciences facilities, improved athletics venues, an endowment and more. It had quietly been raising money since 2009 and went public in 2013.
JU has re-set the ASPIRE campaign to reach $120 million because of expanded priorities, according to the university. JU reported that $56.3 million has been received or pledged with $61.7 million yet to be raised, along with $1.9 million from university sources.
Its 4,203 students come from 48 states and more than 40 countries. Annual tuition, room and board, for two semesters, total more than $41,000, according to the ju.edu site, before federal or state aid is applied.
Cost did not say how much money the Arlington investment might be, but said $20 million has been invested in the campus alone.
He and the board of trustees have raised money and have been investing donations as well as private funds into the campus, including in the new College of Health Sciences building, the River House student center, the football and lacrosse stadium and laboratory space.
He said the goal is to move more campus functions closer to the river, saying JU has “a lot of unused land at the waterfront.”
Orienting college activities toward the water also would be helpful to attract more students from outside Florida to the private school.
He said JU competes with Southeast colleges, including Elon, Vanderbilt, Furman and High Point universities, and that JU can capitalize on its location and its liberal arts offerings.
“If we do a great job here, we’ve got a chance at keeping them,” he said of students enrolling from outside the area and the state who might consider staying in Jacksonville after graduation.
“Our goal is to attract 1,000 little economic engines here each year” from around the world.
JU turns 80 today.