UF does not exist in a vacuum.
As the university continues its outward expansion, taking over surrounding streets with its presence, the impact is felt by local businesses.
It’s only natural for the university to pump more money into buildings and faculty as it chased the top-10 public institution preeminent goal.
UF is now bringing in 500 more faculty members with $52 million to pursue a top-five spot. Naturally, this will mean carving out a space for them within the already existing campus or buying more property. UF will continue to extend its reach into the city, which has the potential to create jobs and opportunities.
But the university must acknowledge that everything it touches either thrives or dies, and it has the option to help local businesses thrive. Its employees and students accounted for more than half the city’s population in Fall 2016, according to UF’s Institutional Research and Planning and Census Bureau data.
With that economic power, UF’s impact on local businesses can’t be ignored.
UF didn’t lead to the direct death of the beloved Burrito Brothers., but construction to improve the road-ways around the university -- the presence of the mammoth The Standard building -- strangled the mom-and-pop shop. Now in its place will be a Taco Bell, which is another issue worth addressing another time.
In 2016, the university bought the land for Leonardo’s Pizza By The Slice and Bistro 1245, two mainstay Gainesville restaurants. Though the two have remained open despite the sale, they could one day be forced to close.
With a growing campus, student and faculty population and goals of national and international recognition, it’s understandable that UF would want to grow and expand. But this can’t be at the expense of the culture that makes Gainesville unique.
Last year, UF brought in WingZone, started by two UF alum in a fraternity house kitchen, to campus. The restaurant had roots in Gainesville, and the university recognized that.
So why did UF just debut its sixth on-campus Starbucks? It had an opportunity to introduce the UF Levin College of Law to a local coffee shop like Karma Cream or Maude’s, places that do well on their own, but perhaps could do better with more exposure near students. While we don’t know whether there is an underlying contractual agreement that allows the coffee chain to have a monopoly on selling coffee products -- as the university does with Pepsi Co. -- we do know there is an opportunity to bring the Gainesville culture to campus.
Corporate companies are attracted to magnets like UF, and they have the resources to buy the exposure. For instance, there are three Chick-Fil-A restaurants on campus. There are three Subways. Some may argue that three of each is not enough; others might say it’s three too many. But when Einstein Bros left campus, there could have been an opportunity to replace it with a local business instead of examping a corporate one.
Similarly to how humans must take care of their environment, UF is responsible for ensuring the city’s own entrepreneurs thrive. In reality, there are countless ways in which the institution could do that and some at very little cost. Professors could connect business, advertising or marketing students with local entrepreneurs through class projects. UF could create an advocacy committee that protects the interests of these local businesses. It could also offer specific campus for them.
Unless the university takes action, we will hold it accountable every time a local family loses its business or an entrepreneur fails to prosper in this city. Co-existing with a top institution should be an advantage, not a drawback. UF should be the springboard for entrepreneurs, not the stumbling block.