Santa Fe College President Jackson Sasser said the expansion of Blount Hall will serve to improve the unacceptable poverty levels in Gainesville. The hall will replace the current Center for Innovation and Economic Development (CIED) with a larger and more accessible facility.
The $36.4 million expansion will replace the current CIED, located at 530 W. University Ave. The new Blount Hall will reside on the corner of University Avenue and 6th Street, which is near recreational amenities in downtown Gainesville.
The three-story 86,311 square-foot building will include classrooms, lab suites, business incubation spaces, a financial aid office and other student-related services similar to what is provided at the SFC Northwest Campus.
“Education is the best pathway out of poverty,” he said. “It just opens more opportunities.”
Sasser said he has received positive feedback about the expansion from not only SFC faculty and students but also from the Gainesville community.
Dug Jones, associate vice president for economic development at the CIED, said throughout the past 10 years, the CIED has assisted 170 startup companies with their entrepreneurial incubator program, and they will continue to support these businesses with Blount Hall. He said the entrepreneurs who benefit from the program reflect the community at large.
“(There are) many women entrepreneurs; many persons of color,” he said. “It’s the lady who lives in east Gainesville and wanted to start a hair salon. It’s the guy who wants to start a landscape business.”
Jones said the new facility will even provide for-credit academic programs designed to help people in east Gainesville earn a degree in business or information technology.
The hall will offer convenience to students who wish to take their general studies closer to the downtown area rather than traveling to the Northwest Campus on 83rd Street.
Jones said the CIED has historically been a gathering place for the residents in east Gainesville, whether for philanthropic groups or as a polling station for elections, and the new Blount Hall will continue similar services.
“A part of Santa Fe College’s mission,” he said, “is adding value to the lives of our students and enriching the community.”
Omar Oselimo, the owner of Reggae Shack Café, located at 619 W. University Ave., said he has utilized the opportunities geared toward entrepreneurs that are available at the CIED.
He said he has rented space from the CIED for staff training and meetings at a reasonable price, where projectors and other technological services are available.
“As a small business, a lot of times you don’t have the space,” he said. “I just hope that they continue some of those features.”
He said Blount Hall will economically benefit small businesses in the area, as well as positively influence his restaurant.
“We’ve been here for 15 years,” he said. “And with every growth and development we increase in business.”
He said there are entrepreneurs with startup businesses in Gainesville that don’t have their own offices, so they benefit from using the services provided by the CIED to enhance their business endeavors.
Blount Hall is expected to be completed in spring 2021.
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