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University of Florida grows in Palm Beach County to meet changing economy

West Palm Beach skyline behind Gator emblem.

The University of Florida is becoming a major presence in Palm Beach County despite being located more than four hours north in Gainesville.

In April the university took over the Scripps biotech research facility on Donald Ross Road in Jupiter, creating the University of Florida Scripps campus. In October, that campus received a $100 million donation from the Dr. Herbert and Nicole Wertheim Family Foundation, the largest gift from an individual in the university’s history.

Dr. Wertheim is the founder and CEO of Brain Power, a Miami-based manufacturer of ophthalmic instruments, cosmetic therapeutic tints for eyeglass lenses and diagnostic products. He’s also a Scripps board member and longtime University of Florida donor.

The university describes his donation as the lead gift in a 10-year, $1 billion private-public partnership toward the future Herbert Wertheim UF Scripps Institute for Biomedical Innovation & Technology in Palm Beach Gardens.

“This historic gift is a testament to Dr. Wertheim’s extraordinary philanthropic vision,” says University of Florida President Kent Fuchs, who will be succeeded by U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska in February.

Also in October, UF Health, the university’s academic health center, teamed with Jupiter Medical Center to announce plans for the jointly operated Jupiter Medical Center/UF Health Neighborhood Hospital at the Health Park in Avenir, a burgeoning community along Northlake Boulevard in western Palm Beach County.

The University of Florida is also set to build a graduate campus in downtown West Palm Beach with a focus on financial services, business, engineering, artificial intelligence and law. The campus is slated for 11.7 acres at 810 Datura St.

Fuchs long sought expansion from Gainesville’s rural environment into an urban center in the state and looked at Orlando’s Lake Nona district as a possibility. But when Palm Beach County Commissioner Dave Kerner and West Palm Beach Mayor Keith James traveled to Gainesville in 2020 to discuss a possible local expansion, the president was impressed enough to visit West Palm Beach to further the discussion.

West Palm Beach’s proximity and connectivity to other major South Florida epicenters such as Fort Lauderdale and Miami, and eventually Orlando through the Brightline passenger rail, were selling points.

James says the influx of technological and financial companies could create the biggest transformation for West Palm Beach since Henry Flagler built the railroad through the city more than 100 years ago.

"There's been a frustration within this county and perhaps this state," Kerner said at an Aug. 21, 2021 press conference with James, "about our children becoming very educated, going to higher-level graduate schools, and leaving our state for larger urban centers of the United States like New York City, Boston, and out west in California."

The mayor also sees major benefits in having one of the highest-ranked public universities in the nation planting a graduate campus in the city.

"There's a three or four-block area," he said. "It's near downtown where there's a lot of activity going on. It's near Rosemary Square. It's an ideal location. If we had sat down 100 years ago and said where would we put something like this, we probably would've identified this area."


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