With a climbing student population, UCF needs more housing to offer to incoming students. Tearing down the University Shoppes Plaza and starting from scratch doesn’t seem to be the most economic answer or the most popular one among business owners.
Although the student housing that will replace some of the present infrastructure will benefit present and incoming students, UCF has two new housing projects in the works consisting of 700 new dorms, slated to open in fall of next year. The projects, funded by the state, will total $42.3 million, and the university’s effort should be focused on filling these new dorms prior to students looking elsewhere for housing, such as the new university housing plaza.
The two development projects very well may find themselves in a race, combating for incoming students’ business. Although UCF’s burgeoning population will more than likely have no problem filling both, on-campus housing should be given first consideration. Budget cuts and a growing number of students are putting a strain on UCF funds, and the revenue from new student dorms will help curb this. On-campus housing options reduce traffic congestion and offer students a safer and more regulated living experience.
With new campus housing being taken into consideration, the success of the University Shoppes Plaza depends on several things. Texas-based company American Campus Communities already owns the University Shoppes Plaza, which will be turned into student housing.
The company has not extended offers to any of the current business owners to reopen once renovations are complete. ACC’s first order of business should be to set things right by offering these businesses rental spaces in the renovated plaza prior to building more fast-food chains and corporate retail outlets, which will detract from the UCF culture.
Several businesses in the plaza that are a fundamental part of UCF life, including places like Broadway Pizza and Underground Bluz, have been in business for more than a decade and generate revenue for the plaza because many students frequent these establishments. The students who are currently employed within the plaza will also be forced to look for other jobs, a stressful venture in an already-stressed economy.
UCF stands as one of the largest commuter campuses, with 90 percent of the student population living off campus. There are probably other development sites that could have been chosen for the renovation project. However, when taking this statistic into consideration, the plaza’s proximity to campus makes more sense.
Although the plaza’s location is convenient because it is so close to university grounds, Alafaya Trail and University Boulevard is one of the busiest intersections in Orlando. Without a proper layout, the plaza’s business patrons and residents will add to traffic congestion around campus, and students walking to school could be at a greater risk. Shuttle services to the main campus should be offered around the clock and could be an efficient way to cut down on traffic entering and exiting the plaza. It will also give students the option to avoid walking, especially at night.
Another consideration for the plaza needs to be safety. With increased housing comes the potential for increased crime activity, as crime is prominent within student housing around UCF. Last year, 513 incidents were reported to the UCF police department, compared to 427 in 2010. Security measures should be increased for the new plaza to ensure student safety, such as gated entrances to separate the housing from the rest of the plaza.
A combination of the new dorm projects and plaza housing will both be necessary to supplement UCF’s growing numbers. The plaza can be a great addition if campus dorms are given first priority and the proper precautions are taken to ensure its success.