Buzz: New UF Dorm, New Art Walks, New Highway and More

New Dorm Approved

The University of Florida Board of Trustees has approved building a new $25 million dormitory designed to house students with “multiple handicapped challenges.” If approved by the Board of Governors, construction on the new 255-bed dormitory begins in November; it will be completed by August 2015, the Gainesville Sun reported. The site is a gently sloping grassy area between Reid Hall and Southwest 13th Street, across the street from Norman Hall, home to the College of Education, which just received a $25 million grant to work with disabled students. The dorm will have single- and double-occupancy rooms and suites for four to six students. There is currently a 600-student waiting list for dormitory space. Much of the construction will be funded through bond sales.


New Life for First Wednesday Art Walk

Valerie Feinberg has taken the position of director of strategic partnerships at Downtown Vision Inc. and is developing new concepts to enhance the popular First Wednesday Art Walks. The theme for Oct. 2 is Oktoberfest, complete with a German oompah polka band. On Nov. 6, the Art Walk celebrates “Cheers to 10 Years,” with champagne toasts and live jazz along Laura Street. “Downtown for the Holidays” is planned for Dec. 4 to encourage Art Walk participants to purchase holiday gifts from local artists and businesses. “We have worked on revamping Art Walk coming into the next 10 years. We’re looking at elevating some programs and increasing partnerships to celebrate the valuable resources we have Downtown,” Feinberg told the Financial News & Daily Record.


Highway 9B Segment Opening

The orange cones will soon be gone, and Florida Highway 9B will be opening, making it easier for commuters from the southern part of Duval and St. Johns counties to drive into Jacksonville. The new four-mile segment links Interstate 295 with U.S. 1 (aka Philips Highway) in the Bayard area. The $75 million project was largely paid for with federal stimulus money. The second phase of 9B will continue it from U.S. 1 to I-95 and connect it with a new interchange scheduled for completion in the summer of 2016. Florida Department of Transportation spokesperson Laurie Sanderson said the exact opening day of the first segment hasn’t been determined, but construction is expected to wrap up by Sept. 21. The third segment into St. Johns County hasn’t been funded yet.


Cleaning Up the Coast

Folks on the First Coast can participate in the International Coastal Cleanup Sept. 21. Hundreds of residents from Duval, Nassau and St. Johns join the Ocean Conservancy’s effort to remove trash and debris from beaches and rivers, keeping track of every piece of trash collected. In 2012, more than 550,000 people picked up more than 10 million pounds of trash along nearly 20,000 miles of coastline in 27 countries. In Duval County, about 750 volunteers picked up 21,320 pounds of debris last year. And there are prizes for the most cigarette butts collected. For more details, visit or


‘Top Chef’ Talk Benefits FSCJ

In an effort to raise funds to benefit the culinary program at Florida State College at Jacksonville, the Jacksonville Public Library is partnering with the college’s foundation to host My Favorite Cookbook, an annual benefit. Bravo’s “Top Chef” season 9 fan-favorite Chef Grayson Schmitz will give a presentation and sign books at the free benefit Sept. 18 in the Main Library’s Conference Center. At 7 p.m., Schmitz discusses her favorite cookbook, “The Joy of Cooking,” and gives her view of the reality show; a book signing follows. A private reception is held prior to the public event for Foundation donors, sponsors and ticketed guests.


Officials Won’t Fight Term Limits

Sheriff John Rutherford, Property Appraiser Jim Overton and Supervisor of Elections Jerry Holland said they won’t fight a court ruling that they cannot seek another term in office in 2015, The Florida Times-Union reported. Newly reinstated term limit rules prevent office-holders from serving more than eight years. Holland said he plans to seek Overton’s post, Overton said he plans to retire and Rutherford hasn’t announced his plans.


Brightening Up Downtown

IlluminateJax, a plan to light up Jacksonville’s skyline, will be unveiled when the Jax Chamber’s Downtown Council meets at breakfast Sept. 20. Margie Seaman, national director of commercial real estate for Seller’s Realty Group Inc., told the Financial News & Daily Record the idea, first proposed about a year ago, is gaining momentum. Buildings can be lighted by casting a light on the buildings’ sides or by installing LEDs directly on structures. For more information, go to


Vistakon Planning Expansion

Contact lens maker Vistakon is planning a $218 million expansion on its South Jacksonville campus, the Financial News & Daily Record reported. Vistakon told the city and state it will create up to 100 jobs, at an average wage of $65,000 plus benefits. The expansion allows the company to make the latest generation of its disposable contact lenses. The new space and jobs will give Vistakon, a Jacksonville-based division of Johnson & Johnson, almost 2,000 employees under 800,00 square feet.


New Education Commissioner

Annmarie Kent-Willette has been chosen by Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown as city’s new education commissioner. Dr. Kent-Willette, a Jacksonville University professor of communications, will serve on loan from Jacksonville University for the next two years, advocating for education and schools for the city. She succeeds Donnie Horner, JU management professor, who’s now JU’s chief government and community affairs officer. As the mayor’s senior policy adviser for all education matters, Dr. Kent-Willette reports directly to Brown. Her office operates at no cost to Duval County taxpayers.