University of Florida explores campus in Downtown Jacksonville
Move over UNF Ospreys, JU Dolphins and Edward Waters University Tigers — the Gators are coming to town.
The University of Florida joined Jacksonville officials Tuesday to announce a planned partnership to create a Downtown graduate campus in Jacksonville that would focus on medicine, business and engineering, health care and financial services.
The Downtown campus would build on UF’s and Jacksonville’s long-standing connections in health care, providing graduate programs in biomedical technology, health applications of artificial intelligence, patient quality and safety, health care administration and financial technology, known as fintech, UF Board of Trustees Mori Hosseini said.
UF is coming here because Jacksonville is filled with "audacious people who have big dreams, big ideas," Hosseini said.
"That's why, when I learned last year that Mayor (Lenny) Curry was interested in partnering with UF over a very important project, I said to myself, this is too good to pass on," he said. "You have to do this for Jacksonville, for UF and for the people of Florida. ... Joining together in ventures such as this is what we call a no-brainer."
Curry estimated the first classes could begin “inside of a couple of years.” He said he would immediately file a three-year, $50 million proposal with the City Council to start the project rolling as UF and community leaders seek an additional $50 million in private support.
"They wouldn't be here if this wasn't serious. This is a vision to have graduate classes you cannot get anywhere else in Jacksonville, Florida," Curry said. "You would have students obviously living there, and the degrees. We are talking about degrees in fintech, degrees in medical and health administration, high-paying jobs and degrees that you can only get there. That's the vision."
Details on the proposed campus are slim, as the process has just begun to fund it and find a location Downtown, officials said.
Curry had invited UF to expand its presence in Jacksonville, which already has a major medical presence in the city, with the UF Health Jacksonville campus on Eighth Street in the Springfield community and a second hospital on the Northside.
The mayor said this would be new construction and probably would include "a housing piece," although no estimate of student or staff sizes are available yet.
Curry boasted that Jacksonville is already a leader in both fintech and health care innovation with a "robust network of Fortune 500 companies and cutting-edge health facilities" like UF Health, Wolfson’s Children Hospital and the Ackerman Cancer Institutes.
“We are excited about the possibility of hosting this University of Florida expansion to foster opportunity, a talent pipeline, and further grow our region’s industry," Curry said, speaking to a packed audience of business leaders, lawmakers and UF administrators, as well as the presidents of Jacksonville University, University of North Florida and Florida Community College at Jacksonville.
The satellite campus is not a done deal, but Hosseini said the university and city of Jacksonville are "committed to explore opportunities to create a new campus" here.
New UF President Ben Sasse attended the announcement Tuesday, on only his second day as president after serving as a U.S. senator from Nebraska.
Calling himself the "absolute greenhorn newbie," Sasse said there is "real potential for UF to add to Florida’s skilled workforce" with the new campus, which he said would attract private investment and support existing growth industries.
While this project is part of an "exciting time for Gator Nation," he said, Jacksonville is doing some impressive things and is the place to open a satellite facility.
"This really is the special kind of community that pulls on oars together as one Jacksonville. The dynamism in the workforce and education space is going to continue to accelerate, and we at UF are really excited about growing this partnership," Sasse said.
Hosseini, also chairman and CEO of ICI Homes, said UF is committed to working with UNF, FSCJ and JU on its proposed local campus, which he said could entice companies to move here because of a new, locally trained workforce.
"When this is completed, this proposal would hold the key to keeping Florida's brightest minds in Florida by providing them with the skills they need to build promising careers," he said.
Among the audience members was Jax Chamber President Daniel Davis, who is running for mayor. After the announcement, he called the UF proposal "an incredible opportunity" that his staff has been working on for a few years.
"It is one of the biggest things to happen to Jacksonville in 30 years," Davis said. "The Jags set Jacksonville on the map globally. This is going to be the next big thing for Downtown."
City officials said the next steps include UF and Jacksonville officials working with education, business, medical and community leaders to determine the most critical academic needs and opportunities for the regional workforce.
Last year, the state Legislature supported $100 million for a UF technology campus in West Palm Beach in South Florida. In that case, private contributions and contribution of land were part of the mix for UF agreeing to establish the campus.
In 2020, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced the state would put $3.7 million toward starting a financial technology education initiative in Northeast Florida.