From 1978 to 1987, UNF operated a Downtown Center in the currently named MOCA building, at 333 North Laura Street, at the corner of Duval Street overlooking Hemming Park. This building was then called the Galleria, with retail shops on the first floor, including the legendary women's shoe store, La Rose Footwear. In opening the Center, the University hoped to make courses more accessible to inner city, Northside and Westside residents, and to major downtown businesses. At that time, there were no bus routes to UNF's main campus on the Southside, and transportation issues were a major consideration in opening the Center in the core of urban Jacksonville.The fifth and top floor of the Galleria building, approx. 8,000 square feet, was remodeled by UNF to include eight classrooms, five office spaces, a student lounge, small library, and a reception and registration area. Classes opened in the Center on Sept. 25, 1978, with an enrollment in the first year of 1839 students. The Center offered a limited range of upper division and graduate courses drawn from Arts and Sciences, Business, Education and General University curricula.For the first three years, enrollment continued to climb, and reached a peak in 1981 with 2247 students. After that, enrollments started to decline steadily, attributed to factors such as a sluggish economy with cutbacks in student aid, a decrease in the number and type of courses offered at the Center due to low enrollment, and the beginning of bus routes operating to the main Southside campus. Only 428 students were enrolled in 1987, and with the rising costs of maintaining the site, the Center in the Galleria Building closed in August 1987.After the closing of the Galleria site, UNF continued to maintain a downtown presence. In December 1987, a UNF “Downtown Service Center” (D.S.C.) was opened on 45 W. Bay Street on the first floor of the Drew Building (across from the then called Independent Life Building – now Modis). "We are regarding the entire downtown as our campus. We expect to have five to seven classes underway in buildings across the center of Jacksonville," said John Bardo, UNF Vice President of Academic Affairs. Classes, mainly in specialized fields such as health, criminal justice, and business, were not held at the Center itself, but in various buildings throughout the downtown area, e.g., Police Memorial Building, Blue Cross-Blue Shield Building. The D.S.C. served mainly as a site where students who lived or worked downtown could register, pay fees and receive information on UNF. During the 1988 winter term, 211 students enrolled in 24 off-campus courses at 13 locations served by the D. S.C. It was not enough - the UNF Downtown Service Center closed on August 30, 1990.But, the UNF downtown story continues... It is an interesting case of history repeating itself with the announcement in October 2008, that the University was planning to take over the operations of the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville (MOCAJax), coincidentally housed in the old Galleria Building. Museum officials had earlier in the year broached the idea to UNF. On April 16, 2009, the UNF Board of Trustees approved the arrangement, after the University's eleven-month review of the Museum's finances, legal obligations, physical plant, and the art collection. Under the terms of the arrangement, UNF becomes the building's leaseholder and in control of most of MOCAJax's 800-piece collection. After almost twenty years, UNF once again has a downtown presence.Addendum: There is an interesting footnote to the UNF downtown story from a charter faculty member who was an eyewitness to the beginning of the Downtown Center in the Galleria Building. In 1978, the supervision for the remodeling of the building was assigned to Dr. Thomas Healy by the newly appointed Academic Vice President John P. Minahan. Staying on top of the situation and through daily involvement with the construction / renovation, the contractors and their personnel, Dr. Healy performed a minor miracle getting the project completed on time. Only 24 hours before the opening ceremonies the place was still a mess, but with intensive overnight work a day later everything was in perfect order and the opening ceremony, held as scheduled, was a resounding success. It permanently established Dr. Healy's reputation as a "can do" administrator, a reputation he steadily maintained for the rest of his career.
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View of Hemming Park across from Downtown Center
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