ANJ Investigates

Investigates: Is Jacksonville a pawn in UF campus game?

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The University of Florida (UF) has “paused” its negotiations for a campus in downtown West Palm Beach (WPB) which could have implications for its campus in Jacksonville. The issue in WPB was reportedly a disagreement over naming rights for its proposed graduate school.


This come as Jacksonville City Council is scheduled to hold public comment Tuesday night regarding a proposed UF campus in downtown.

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“This is an important project?,” asked Action News Jax Ben Becker. “Transformational for the urban core of downtown,” said State Representative Wyman Duggan.

Duggan recently filed a $50 million appropriations request with an additional $50 million ask over the next five years to help pay for a UF campus that “will cultivate a critical mass of biomedical, fintech, cybersecurity, venture capital, and data analytics expertise”.

Action News Jax first told you on February 7, Mayor Lenny Curry asked the City Council to authorize $20 million as the City’s first installment of a separate $50 million commitment to the project to go along with a $50 million fund-raising pledge from UF. The City made the announcement a week after the UF deal in West Palm Beach was reportedly falling apart.

The total cost for the Jacksonville campus is $200 million or so we thought.

In an Action News Jax investigation, Becker uncovered potential additional costs of more than $17 million related to the possible 18 acre site the encompasses five parcels.

Watch: Documents showcases UF Campus vision for the future

Becker found out parcels 1, 2 and 3 are parking lots at Florida State Campus Jacksonville’s (FSCJ) downtown campus on West State Street.

Not only could the school potentially lose half its parking, 750 spaces, but the Duval County Property Appraiser’s Office estimates the school would part with about $3.2 million worth of land. FSCJ said developers would replace the parking spots that would be taken away, but it’s not clear how.

Next door is parcel 4 which is JEA’s Main Street Water Plant and laboratory. The future of the property is up in the air, but the utility said “our commitment will be through providing a total investment value of up to $10 million of in-kind goods and services, currently planned to include chilled water connection, street lighting, emergency response poles and charging stations.”

Then there’s parcel 5 owned by the City - which is the Mary L. Singleton Senior Center. The presence of the school could not only displace vulnerable seniors, but the property appraiser said land is worth $4,452,800.

Now that UF announced its plans for a graduate campus in West Palm Beach may not happen, what does it mean for Jacksonville?

“Does it concern you that Jacksonville is being used as a pawn?” Becker asked Duggan regarding the possibility Jacksonville could just be leverage for UF to get a deal done in South Florida. “I don’t agree with that categorization,” said Duggan. “Is it in the universe of possibilities, maybe.”

Related Story: Jacksonville, UF to explore possible graduate campus

But Duggan insists local leaders will work to make the campus a reality as he’s heard there could be at least 2,000 students and faculty if a campus is built in Jacksonville.

Duggan also said the nearby fairgrounds land could also be a potential site for the school, but the land is currently in the process of being purchased by a company owned by Jaguars’ owner Shad Khan.

The City of Jacksonville sent this statement as comment:

“While University of Florida as well as some stakeholders have begun considering location options, a final location will be determined by the City of Jacksonville with UF and community stakeholders at the table.

This includes any location that may have a mix of public and privately owned property and will also include contemplation of infrastructure, utilities, transportation, and access. The first step will be the City joining with Federal, State, and or Private/Philanthropic donors to ensure financing. After that, the decision regarding the location will include the same stakeholders.

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It is extremely premature to contemplate impacts of any single location as that has yet to be determined.”