Area colleges investing in Downtown

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  • | 12:00 p.m. April 21, 2017
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Higher education is playing a lead role in the economic revitalization of Downtown Jacksonville as two of the city’s three colleges expand their campuses in the city’s urban core.

This fall, Florida State College at Jacksonville plans to open its student housing and culinary arts café in the historic Lerner Building.

That’s just the start. FSCJ President Cynthia Bioteau said it will be the first of three facilities the college has planned for Downtown.

She did not say where the next two might be. The Lerner Building is at 20 W. Adams St., off of North Main Street.

Jill Johnson, FSCJ director of marketing and communications, said Thursday that the next two locations have not been decided.

FSCJ wants to see the results of the initial housing project.

“Dr. Bioteau definitely has a vision to continue the momentum of our housing efforts as we share our resources in promoting the revitalization of Downtown Jacksonville,” she said.

FSCJ’s investment in the Lerner Building is projected at roughly $6.2 million in private capital, according to the Downtown Investment Authority.

About the same time, Jacksonville University students will start taking health science courses in the SunTrust Tower at 76 S. Laura St., where the university is leasing 15,000 square feet, said JU President Tim Cost.

In addition to leasing expenses, JU will be using a $274,000 loan from the DIA to renovate SunTrust tower’s 18th floor.

College campus expansion was a topic at Wednesday’s Economic Roundtable of Jacksonville as Bioteau, Cost and University of North Florida President John Delaney discussed the economic impact of higher education.

Cost has been working two years on the Downtown campus plan, which will provide undergraduate and post-graduate courses for about 100 students. The commitment is permanent, he has said, and may eventually expand to business courses.

“We can’t wait to get in there and start teaching classes,” Cost said after Wednesday’s forum.

With Downtown only a 10-minute drive from the 300-acre university on Arlington’s waterfront, Cost said businesses have encouraged and supported his vision.

“As soon as we started negotiating we found a very friendly atmosphere,” Cost said.

A permit was issued early this year to convert the six-story Lerner Building, which has been vacant since the late 1980s, for FSCJ student housing. The college’s main campus is on West State Street.

The facility will offer five floors of student housing for about 60 students and a “farm to fork” café, which will be open to the public and help train students through the college’s Culinary Arts and Hospitality program.

When Bioteau moved to Jacksonville three years ago, she said she was dismayed by Downtown’s sense of isolation and silence after 5 p.m.

FSCJ’s Downtown presence is aligned with the prosperity of the city’s urban core, she said.

Delaney, who has served the longest term as UNF president, announced he will retire in 2018 after 15 years in the position. He said he doesn’t anticipate a UNF Downtown campus any time soon.

UNF does have a presence through the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville, which is a cultural institute of the university.