Downtown skyline home to UNF expansion

Spinnaker

UNF administrators have been trying to establish a larger presence in the community for years.

In 2004 they began the transition of upgrading the athletic program to Division I status.

In 2006 they approved proposals for several new construction projects.

And during the past two years, they’ve implemented several community-based transformational learning programs.

Now the university plans to establish a presence in downtown Jacksonville.

UNF was approached at the beginning of the fall semester by Museum of Contemporary Art officials about assuming the operation of the museum, and President John Delaney is scheduled to sign a non-binding agreement within a couple of weeks, said Shari Shuman, vice president of administration and finance.

The proposal will give UNF control of more than $10 million worth of art, and the university plans to run two art courses in the 16,000-square-foot museum in the spring to test-run the facility, Shuman said.

“It will not only help the recognition of UNF, but also help downtown,” Shuman said. “Right now we already have a working relationship with the museum, but this will give us more of an opportunity with the academic benefits and the synergy between the museum and the campus.”

Delaney saw this as an opportunity to help give back to the community and save the city from losing a cultural asset, he said.

University administrators are currently reviewing the finances, physical plant, legal obligations and funding with hopes to make a final decision by the December Board of Trustees meeting, Shuman said.

The property has a 96-year agreement left on the lease with the city, but UNF administrators have talked about the possibility of acquiring the deed.

“We aren’t really buying anything, just taking over the operations,” Delaney said. “The positives are incredible. It’s a no-risk deal unless the value of the art decreases.”

UNF wouldn’t own the museum since MOCA is a not-for-profit and is run by a board. There are no ownership shares.

But UNF could have ownership of the art since one of the possibilities is turning the museum into a direct for-support organization, allowing the art to transfer ownership to UNF, Shuman said.

Under the current proposal, it will cost UNF nothing to take ownership, but some renovation and building costs are expected, which Delaney said would not comfrom the university’s operating funds.

Since a museum is considered academic space, the university will receive plant operations and maintenance funding from the state, Shuman said.

“If we had to put cash in because it was losing money, then we would provide the cash from non E&G [Education and General] monies and have it be a loan to the museum,” Shuman said. “If the museum couldn’t pay off the loan, it would dissolve and sell the art.”

The museum has two art studios and an auditorium for university classes. Shuman said UNF could possibly rent out the space to other local colleges seeking to offer a course downtown.

One of the university’s major concerns is parking downtown, so it is looking into possibly offering an art shuttle from the central campus to the museum, said Debra Murphy, chair of the Art Department.

“We are really thrilled,” Murphy said. “An increased student population can increase the vibrancy of downtown. It’s a contemporary museum, so it’s the art of right now and reflects all
of us.”

E-mail Josh Salman at [email protected]
Rebecca McKinnon contributed to this report.