The University of Central Florida has walked a careful path to line up support for what had been a controversial plan for a downtown Orlando campus, and now the university has everything but the governor’s signature.

No one is taking that for granted though.

Over the weekend, with pushes from Senate President Andy Gardiner of Orlando and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli of Merritt Island, the Florida Legislature’s budget conference included the $20 million UCF needs.

That came a few days after the Florida Board of Governors signed off, even as key members of that board stated flatly they would not have done so based on how the plan had first been presented.

Last month the city of Orlando pushed all its chips onto the table, signing a memorandum of understanding that it would provide $68 million worth of land, buildings and infrastructure.

And civic leaders and organizations in Orlando have chipped in on their own, raising $16 million in private donations over the past four months toward a promised goal of $20 million.

But it all hinges on a critical set of promises and concessions that the university agreed to in January after UCF officials and officials of Gov. Rick Scott met in December to sort out what the university could do to change his mind.

Scott vetoed money last summer for the campus. He still has not made any statements about whether he’ll change his mind this time. That’s where the UCF memorandum of understanding, approved by the UCF Board of Trustees in January, becomes critical.

UCF Senior Vice President for University Relations Dan Holsenbeck called the budget appropriation a “huge relief,” but not the final releif.

“Honestly, it would not be possible without, first and foremost, the real support and tenacity of the speaker and the president,” Holsenbeck said.

“But we also have to recognize that we worked with the governor and his staff over the holidays and addressed most of his issues,” he added. “I’m not speculating that he is gong to sign it or not veto it, But we worked out the issues of concern to him.”

Those issues included UCF promises to focus the academic offerings on majors that would address the downtown workforce needs; to review progress and weed out any programs that have low student demand; to pursue the goal of 100 percent job placement in the two most popular degree programs within a year of graduation; to set up an instructional model that would involve about 46 percent of instruction coming from traditional classroom lectures, 38 percent from hybrid methods and 16 percent as on-line studies; to not build its own student dormitories downtown, but to allow private developers to offer private student housing; to not seek any more state money until after the campus opens for the 2018-’19 year.

The downtown campus was not the only major UCF project to get funding in the conference budget.

UCF also is getting $14 million for continued development of a joint-use set of facilities for military research in the university’s research park. It also got more than $3 million to finish renovations of a UCF engineering building, and more than $4 million for a multi-disciplinary lab building on campus.

Next up for UCF, and for the University of South Florida: anticipation that they could get money and recognition as universities of “emerging preeminence.”

Both universities are hoping the new category is created as a notch below the current universities of preeminence category that brings the University of Florida and Florida State University additional funding.

Bills are alive in both houses to create the new category, and the universities are hoping the money will appear in the budget. They expect $20 million to be set aside for UF and FSU to split, and an amount equal to half of what the preeminent universities get — $10 million this year — for UCF and USF to split.

About The Author

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

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