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Imagine a “college town” around FAU in Boca Raton

July 23rd, 2015

When Florida Atlantic University opened in 1964, the main entrance to the Boca Raton campus was Northwest 20th Street. Today, the side street is mostly a scattered mix of industrial and outdated retail buildings.

“It certainly doesn’t look like Boca Raton,” Mayor Susan Haynie said.

Haynie and FAU President John Kelly are calling for a major redevelopment of a mile-long stretch of 20th Street from the FAU campus to Dixie Highway. They’d like to add pedestrian walkways, landscaping, fast casual restaurants, apartments, shops and maybe a movie theater as part of a “college town” extension of FAU.

While plans are still being discussed, Haynie said the city would rezone the street, providing an incentive for property owners to redevelop.

University Park, a 598-bed student housing complex, opened this year just west of Dixie. And Haynie said the corridor is getting a boost from former FAU football coach Howard Schnellenberger, who intends to open a sports-themed restaurant in an adjacent plaza.

By next year, Kelly hopes to complete a professional planning study for remaking 20th street.

“Conceptually, it makes so much sense to me,” he said.

The project is part of a larger effort by Kelly to rid FAU of its “commuter college” label. He believes a renovated 20th Street will make the school more appealing to full-time students who graduate in four or five years.

Kelly said only 45 percent of FAU’s freshmen graduate within six years, one of the lowest rates among Florida universities.

“My focus is on that number,” said Kelly, who recently completed his first year as president. “The longer they linger, the longer they miss out on the opportunity to make significantly more money than they do working part time.

“This is a place to get an education so that you can enter the workforce. This is not a place to linger.”

Students in FAU’s schools of architecture and urban and regional planning worked on designs for what the redeveloped street might look like. Two teams of students will present the designs from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at FAU’s Ritter Gallery.

“They created a vision that’s meant to start a conversation,” said Frank Schnidman, program coordinator for the school of urban and regional planning.

Undergraduate Natasha Vidal will make one of the presentations Wednesday.

In addition to new businesses moving into the corridor, she wants to see FAU hang street banners and hold football game day parades on 20th Street as a way to improve the student experience.

“On campus everything is closed [after business hours],” said Vidal, 36. “You have to get in a car to go anywhere. There’s no reason not to move forward with this.”

Laura Hinkes, owner of the new Papillon vintage home furnishings store just west of Dixie Highway, said she welcomes the redevelopment — especially if it brings in more moms looking to decorate their students’ dorm rooms.

But Hinkes hopes longtime home décor businesses in the area can coexist with coffee shops and other retailers geared toward college students.

“This has always been known as the Boca Design District,” Hinkes said. “I wouldn’t want to see that lost.”

Coach Schnellenberger’s Steakhouse & Sports Theatre will be a recreation of the three upscale restaurants he once had in Plantation, West Boca and Miami. He’s working with the city on approvals and hopes to open this fall.

With FAU’s student population increasing and the football team building its brand, Schnellenberger and other merchants say it’s time to generate more excitement along 20th Street to help the university better connect with the neighboring community.

“It’s going to be really special,” Schnellenberger said. “When you get the city and FAU behind something, it’s going to happen.”

Source: sun sentinel

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