The Plaza of the Americas at the University of Florida, which began renovations costing $2.2 million in November, is expected to be complete by summer, UF spokesman Steve Orlando said.
Improvements to one of campus’ most iconic spaces, which draws in 1.2 million visitors every year, will include additional landscaping, improved drainage to prevent grass-killing flooding, a dedicated area for the public programs that take place on the Plaza, an improved food and events area, wider sidewalks, extra seating, new emergency blue phones and expanded Wi-Fi.
The project is a part of UF’s Strategic Development Plan, which aims to chart the university’s growth for the next 40 to 50 years and help both the university and the surrounding community become truly preeminent.
“There will be many projects currently under development that will be part of the Strategic Development Plan but are not quite ready for public unveiling yet,” said Orlando.
To preserve functionality for the students, the six-month-long project is being done in two phases, with the eastern half currently under construction and the western half to follow upon completion.
The renovations have been funded by private donors and alumni Herb and Catherine Yardley, who contributed $1.3 million and the rest has been funded by UF. The university’s funding has come from the office of UF Chief Operating Officer Charlie Lane.
“The goal is to give a facelift to one of the most public and visible spaces on campus,” said Orlando. “The Plaza of the Americas has been part of campus since the 1920s and is well loved by generations of Gators. This project will give it a much-needed freshening and will also improve some things many people don’t often think about, like drainage.”
“Personally, I’m looking forward to the new central space at the north end for special events,” said Orlando.
Leaders who have helped shape the plan include former UF president Marshall Criser, Jr.; former UF provost David Colburn, interim director of the Graham Center for Public Policy; Willard Harrison, dean emeritus of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; and alumni Herb and Catherine Yardley.
“The Plaza is one of those things that had fallen on hard times,” said Willard Harrison, a leader in the effort to prioritize renovation and former dean of Liberal arts and Sciences for 12 years. “To me, the Plaza is like living room or family room of the university. It’s one of the most important parts of campus.”
“It will be a really nice increase in the capability of the university to service students,” said Harrison.
For the Hare Krishnas, the renovations solidify a relationship between the group and university that has been in the making for over 40 years.
The renovation will bring a designated spot for Krishna Lunch, which is served daily at the Plaza and has become a tradition since its conception in 1971. Throughout the renovations, the lunch has been unaffected.
Bob Cohen, an advisory board member for Krishna West, became involved in the project on behalf of the Krishna House.
“When the foundation decided to remodel the Plaza, we saw it as an an opportunity to give back to the campus,” said Cohen. “It’s a chance for us to offer back our appreciation and be memorialized at the university. This establishes the long-term relationship that we’ve had for half a century.”
This alliance, dubbed “The Krishna Lunch Forever Campaign,” will showcase all of the Krishna House’s donors who have contributed $5,000 and above by engraving their names on the benches. A tree where the group’s leader first spoke will also have a commemorative plaque.
For a group with much initial resistance from the university, this alliance symbolizes a sought after partnership.
In the 1970s, Krishna lunch, which was established under the principle that no individual should be hungry near the Krishna House, was not supported or allowed by the university until it became a certified kitchen.
After becoming certified, they were again barred on the basis of not having running water, which could only be provided by the university. This was met with civil disobedience and a peaceful coexistence between the university and group followed. This made the plans to add running water especially significant, Cohen said.
“I’m excited to see the new Plaza, especially the Krishna area,” said sophomore and mechanical engineering major Casey Twist, who makes Krishna Lunch a part of her Friday routine. “I’ve always had trouble finding enough seating, so I’m happy to see the university improving such a heavily used area.”