DOWNTOWN — The University of Tampa is trying to keep pace with its explosive growth by breaking ground on an 11-story residence hall that could move hundreds of students forced to live in a nearby hotel back onto campus.
Yet unnamed, the $38 million dorm will include 523 beds between Kennedy Boulevard, A Street, N Boulevard and N Brevard Avenue. Until 2009, the site had been the scene for eight decades of power lunches and politicking, serving as home to the now-demolished Valencia Garden restaurant. The dorm should be completed by August 2013.
Over the past decade, UT enrollment has surged by 58 percent, from 4,261 students to 6,738 this year. The 193,000-square-foot dorm will be UT's 11th residence hall and comes on the heels of an expansion project last fall that is adding a second floor to the Martinez Sports Center and a total of 57,000 square feet of new or remodeled classrooms, labs, faculty offices and athletic space.
Currently, about 3,200 students live on the main campus, while 300 students live at the Howard Johnson Plaza Hotel at 111 W Fortune St. because of the lack of dorm space.
"It's a good idea," said freshman Sarah Escamilla, 19, who lives in the hotel. "This is a pain. You have to get up extra early before class, and you can't run back here if you forgot anything."
Although the university provides shuttles to and from the hotel, Escamilla said the wait times occasionally last a half hour. Walking to Plant Hall takes about 15 minutes, she said.
The number of bedrooms in the new dorm would erase the need for student hotel rooms if it were built this year. But by the time the dorm actually opens, university spokesman Eric Cardenas said, it might not be big enough.
"It's hard to forecast, but we think we may still have a need for some hotel space," he said. "Maybe not nearly as much."
The dorm will include suites instead of typical college dorm rooms. Each will include a common living room, four single bedrooms and two full bathrooms. The residence hall will also include several lounges, a laundry room and a common kitchen, as well as two large community rooms with sweeping views of Tampa Bay. Solar energy captured on the building's roof will provide students with hot water.
"Our strong demand for on-campus housing, coupled with our increasing enrollment, has led us to be proactive in providing additional, high quality on-campus housing for students," UT president Ronald L. Vaughn said in a statement. "More and more students want to attend UT and live on our dynamic downtown campus."
The dorm represents the university's 25th new or substantially redesigned building on campus over the past 15 years. Since 1997, UT has spent more than $280 million on new construction.
Justin George can be reached at (813) 226-3368 or email@example.com.