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USF's on-campus housing push gets a boost with new 'Village'

A view of the Holly Drive Retail Plaza in the Village, the new $134 million student housing complex set to open in phases at the University of South Florida in Tampa. [University of South Florida]
Published Oct. 27, 2016

TAMPA — Single dorm rooms have become doubles. Doubles have become triples.

For the last few years, student housing at the University of South Florida has functioned above capacity, unable to meet overwhelming demand.

In a ceremony complete with Rocky the Bull and green-and-gold pom poms, USF System President Judy Genshaft revealed full-color renderings of the $134 million project USF hopes will alleviate that pressure — and transform the campus.

"Welcome to the unveiling of the Village," Genshaft said, then looked to the crowd gathered along balcony railings in the Marshall Student Center. "All students that are here? It's called the Village."

Right now, the future residential complex looks more like a couple of gigantic cinder blocks in a sea of loose dirt. Trucks haul in pre-poured concrete slabs, lifted by cranes and stacked like Legos.

Come fall 2017, USF plans to have completed the first part of the project: two residence halls called Beacon and Summit, a dining facility called the Hub and a wellness facility called the Fit.

Three more residence halls — Endeavor, Pinnacle and Horizon — should be complete by fall 2018. The Village will have about 2,000 students in all.

Their names capture "the sense of excitement, progress and mission that propel us forward," Genshaft said.

Featuring an outdoor pool and retail spaces, the Village will host a mix of suite-style and traditional hall style dorms. It will be certified as environmentally responsible, with a LEED Silver certification. And students will be able to shop at an on-campus Publix to be built nearby.

That's not quite what USF Board of Trustees chair Brian Lamb's experience was like when he lived in a complex called the Village in 1994.

"Let me tell you, you don't want to know what the name of it was that we called it," he said. "It was a lot different than what we're building here. This is special. This is monumental."

Plans have been in the works for a few years. The worn-out Andros housing complex, built on the north part of campus in the early 1960s, had housed more than 50,000 students over the decades.

"I have to tell you that more paint on Andros wasn't going to help," Genshaft said with a laugh. Demolition began in May to make room for the Village.

About 5,600 students live on campus now, mostly undergraduates. By late 2018, accounting for the loss of Andros and the restoration of rooms to their intended capacity, about 6,300 students will be housed. As out-of-state and international enrollment grows, those spaces become more coveted.

Ana Hernandez, assistant vice president of housing and residential education, said they will also serve a need in USF's large body of transfer students.

A campus is considered primarily residential when 25 percent of undergraduates live on campus, according to the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Learning. At about 17 percent now, USF wants to keep pushing that number higher.

Living on campus boosts academic performance and retention and helps students build relationships, Genshaft said. She has long advocated for more on-campus housing, which doubled between 2000 and 2009.

"All of us, all of us, no matter what age we are, want to belong," Genshaft said. "So by bringing them into a welcoming environment as a new student in a new atmosphere, it gives them a feeling of belonging, warmth and appreciation. It gets them involved in activities, rather than being off campus, in a room by themselves."

USF St. Petersburg is also pushing for more on-campus housing to accommodate explosive growth in enrollment. With occupancy at 130 percent, and apartment rental prices on the rise, USFSP leaders got approval from the Board of Trustees for a 550-bed residence hall at Fifth Avenue S and Third Avenue S.

USFSP plans to finance the project through a public-private partnership, which would put development, construction, financing and management in the hands of a private developer. The university would lease the land for more than 40 years, then reclaim ownership.

That's the model USF chose to fund the Village, which became the state university system's largest-ever such partnership. Lamb called it a model for the state.

USF benefits by transferring all the risk of construction and operation to its partners, Capstone Development Partners, LLC, and Harrison Street Real Estate Capital.

"The University of South Florida itself has no dollars invested in this," said USF COO John Long. "The university assumes no debt, which is a big deal."

At the end of the 45-year lease, the buildings will return to USF, which expects to get an additional 20 to 25 years out of them. In the meantime, the developers will recoup their investment through student rent. USF will take a percentage of that money and channel it back into housing projects.

If USF had gone a more traditional route, getting the Village built would have taken 15 years, Long said. Instead, it will take just 24 months.

Contact Claire McNeill at cmcneill@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8321. Follow @clairemcneill.

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