Palm Coast Mayor Milissa Holland today unveiled renderings of the hoped-for the University of North Florida’s foothold in Palm Coast’s Town Center, what the university and the city are projecting as part of a new hub for nursing and other health-care related education to help develop skills to fill the 200,000-some jobs needed in the field in Northeast Florida in coming years.
UNF’s MedNex hub, as it calls it, is the university’s singular pitch to the Legislature for $24 million over two years, with Palm Coast and its Town Center “Innovation District” as a centerpiece of the plan. Palm Coast is pledging $1.5 million. Allette Energy, a developer of Town Center, and AdventHealth are also making substantial commitments, among them the renderings developed by Allette’s architectural firm. Allette would be building UNF’s future structures.
The University Board of Governors approved UNF’s plan late last year. The plan, along with those of a dozen other universities, are now before legislators, who will decide whether any of it gets funded, and to what extent. To that end, Holland, Palm Coast Cioty Manager Matt Morton and Jeff Douglas, who heads Douglas Properties, an Allette-affiliated developer of Town Center, along with Allette’s chief financial officer, are headed to Tallahassee next week for four days of lobbying lawmakers. To that end, Holland and the city administration produced an infographic summing up the purpose of the MedNex initiative, how it fits in Palm Coast and what support it’s generated. (The infographic appears below.)
“We all recognize that the budget is tight, certainly this bucket of funds is one that is also including the governor’s initiative for teachers salaries,” Holland said. (The governor is looking to raise starting teachers’ salaries to $47,500.) “So why we’re working so diligently to get our message across and why this is indeed a unique project, why it will be transformative for the region–that’s why we’ll be taking the time to do this.”
The renderings and the infographic are among the materials Holland and the rest of the group will leave behind for lawmakers.
The plan has been shepherded through the legislature chiefly by Rep. Paul Renner, the Palm Coast Republican, and Sen. TRavis Hutson, both of whose leadership roles have grown substantially in the state capital. “We’re still in the negotiations,” Hutson said of the project during an appearance this morning on WNZF’s Free For All Friday, with Holland and Douglas. (Holland and Douglas were in the studio in Bunnell. Hutson called in.) ” The Board of Governors have been very helpful, Rep. Renner has taken the lead on this issue. It’s my understanding every time we speak we’re trying to finalize on a number that we think between what our budget can absorb and what will be the dollars that we can receive to get these projects started. I know he’s well into negotiations, I’m getting updates constantly from him and I think we’re getting closer and closer to landing the plane to get some dollars for this project.” But Hutson cautioned that there are a lot of competing demands on lawmakers.
Holland acknowledged the difficulties of the year’s limited budget, but she stressed that MedNex transcends parochialism. “This truly is a regional project, this isn’t a local-member project,” Holland said. “We want that to be very clear from the get-go. This impact all the way from Nassau County to Brevard County. We have several medical institutions that have signed up on board, not just AdventHealth as a collaborative partner of MedNex. We have Mayo, MD Anderson, Baptist Health, Brooks Rehabilitation, so this truly will take a pipeline of classroom-to-career using the K-12. Jacob Oliva,” the former Flagler superintendent who launched the district’s flagship, or classroom-to-career, programs, and now the vice-chancellor of education in Tallahassee, “is supportive of this project. He sees it as a true benefit of true job creation. This is economic development at its finest, and much-needed jobs in the region.”
The UNF buildings in Town Center would provide classrooms for nursing education, among other disciplines. The buildings are inspired by UNF’s architecture in Jacksonville. Camburas & Theodore, the 70-year-old Des Plaines, Ill.-based architectural firm that developed the renderings, has its angular or linear creations, but also likes curvaceous spaces and what it calls “unrolled surfaces,” buildings that unexpectedly wrap around themselves or are themselves wrapped in visual effects. The result combines the familiar with the futuristic while its large open bays give the structures the sort of airiness that defies the institutional. UNF’s imagined buildings in town center achieve that effect–two large white curving structures, one embracing or straddling the other as if to create what looks like an arrowhead from the air, with both structures’ roofs covered in swaths of lawn: the buildings are intended to blend into Town Center’s greenery rather than obliterate it.
MedNex, Holland said, “will be the model across the country, of how medical institutions can partner with universities to create, again, this true pipeline. So our vision has always been medical technology and innovation in our downtown, or Town Center, we’re developing strategies around this, and this will be the anchor to catapult and launch many initiatives that I think will transform our community.”
The presence ties into other rapidly developing segments of Town Center, which Douglas addressed this morning on the air when asked about the two clusters of apartment buildings remaking the future downtown skyline. “This is just the beginning,” Douglas said. “There is an entertainment district that is in engineering now to go vertical, with restaurants and entertainment, and we’ll have live music nightly. We’re submitting that engineering to the city, with a promenade, and some real fun things. That’ll connect the movie theater to the central lake. We want a gathering place for all ages, all people.”