East Campus in Perspective: The University of Central Florida Athletic Village

As the East Campus Redevelopment Project moves through the public participation process, it is valuable to look at how other universities have integrated mixed-use facilities into their campuses. Over the next week and months we hope to profile many similar projects.

The University of Central Florida (UCF) recently put the finishing touches on a $300 million mixed-use athletic village, located on its Orlando campus.

UCF_village4
UCF, with an enrollment of over 48,000, has long struggled to create a pedestrian-oriented collegiate experience for its students due to its unfavorable location on major state highway. Because of this, the university became interested in creating a destination for students, alumni and local-area residents that would serve as a hub of activity for the campus and surrounding area. The result of the university’s effort is a mixed-use project that features 2,000 student beds, 83,000 square feet of retail, 3 parking garages, a 10,000-seat arena and a 45,000-seat football stadium. Dining options alone include Maggiemoo’s Ice Cream, Subway, Papa John’s, and Nature’s Table Cafe.

UCF_village1

Design Principles
Founded in the late 1960’s, UCF features a radial campus with its student union acting as the central hub of activity. Paths radiate out from the union to connect academic buildings and residential nodes. Unlike East Campus, UCF did not have to deal with a state highway separating its project site from its existing campus.

UCF_campus

1. Connectivity: UCF made it a point to connect this district to the existing campus by removing an unimproved parking lot between the project site and the student union. The parking lot was converted to a pedestrian mall with the new arena as its terminus.
2. Adaptive Reuse: Although significantly larger in scale than the Pocomoke Building, UCF retrofitted its old arena to house locker rooms and athletic offices.
3. Strong edges: The retail portion of this project clearly defines the public space on the street and creates a pedestrian-friendly environment.
4. Unique district: The village has a different character than the existing campus, which creates psychological transition from academia to residential life. The parking garages retain the character of the residential buildings and blend in well.
UCF_village6

Missed Opportunities
1. Green building: The athletic village was designed before UCF adopted standards requiring LEED certification for all new construction.
2. Transit: Orlando is at least 50 years behind D.C. in terms of mass transit. Because of the lack of rail, the athletic village is served by automobiles and shuttle buses. This may be an opportunity realized sometime in the future.

Although the UCF athletic village houses different uses than the proposed East Campus project, the underlying ideas and goals are the same. UCF created a pedestrian environment to provide a destination for students, faculty, alumni and neighbors alike. UCF has finished its district, and Maryland can learn from its success.

> UCF Stadium Master Plan Amendment

Tax Increment Financing 101

As Route 1 redevelopment progresses with the East Campus and other projects, there may be opportunities for the public sector to use tax increment financing as an incentive for developers. Tax increment financing, a form of a public-private partnership, is an agreement between a developer and municipality in which future tax revenues are used to subsidize infrastructure or other public amenities.

The idea is that certain projects have such positive economic impacts that municipalities are willing to provide financial incentives to the development community in order to help the projects get built. Because the municipality is borrowing the money, it receives discounted rates on bonds from financial lenders. The money is then used to fund improvements to the project site, which can range from land acquisition to infrastructure improvements.

The municipality realizes that the development will increase its tax base over the life of the project. A percentage of the increase in tax revenue collected within the district is then used to pay off the bonds used to finance the improvements. In Prince George’s County, tax increment financing is typically, if not always, used for specific project sites rather than districts, so the percentage of the increase in tax revenue from each particular project is used to pay its bonds.

Although this method of financing appears to some as a solution to all of Route 1’s problems, too much tax increment financing can be risky for a municipality or county to undertake. Some issues with the financing methodology include the over-allocation of future tax revenues and the unpredictability of future tax revenues. All things aside, if used correctly these partnerships can have positive economic impacts on entire communities.