TAMPA — It was designed to encourage interaction and community. It has “art boxes,” study nooks, photographic displays from around the world, a sweeping panoramic view of Tampa, and rooms organized in suite or loft arrangements.
Just don’t call West Kennedy Hall on the University of Tampa campus a “dorm.”
“We like to call it a residence hall instead of just a dorm,” said Sabrina Griffith, UT’s associate director for resident life. “We want them to feel like they’re doing more than just sleeping here. You can come out of your room and still feel like this is your space.”
At 11 stories along Kennedy Boulevard, the new structure is symbolic of the growth of Tampa’s signature private university. The school reported record enrollment of 7,343 this fall, an increase of 5.5 percent from last year and more than triple the enrollment two decades ago.
The school has hired 16 new full-time faculty and staff for this fall.
The new hall comes as renovations to the school’s aquatic center are also being completed, and several months after the grand openings of the Peter J. Schoomaker ROTC and Athletics Building and the Naimoli Family Athletic and Intramural Complex, the new lacrosse field that abuts Kennedy Boulevard.
“We could easily grow bigger, faster,” said Dan Gura, UT’s vice president for development and university relations. But UT is more concerned with maintaining key thresholds such as 65 percent of undergraduates living on campus and an average class size of 21 students, he said.
“The University of Tampa’s niche is as a medium-sized, comprehensive urban university, and we’ve always felt that the experience on campus is very much a part of who we are,” Gura said. “We’d rather not have our students commute, park in a blacktop parking lot or garage and go to class.”
That is making UT more selective in its admissions process, with just under 18,000 applications for the 2,061 new undergraduate openings this fall.
West Kennedy Hall makes room for 528 more residential students, mostly upperclassmen. It is loaded with amenities, from a full stainless-steel kitchen to washer-dryer units that can text-message students when their laundry is ready.
The building has an international feel, with art objects and cultural elements from more than 20 countries in the lobby and throughout the building. Winning entries from UT’s international photography contest hang on the 11th floor. “Quote walls” include a variety of thoughts from people around the world relevant to the international theme.
“I love my room,” said West Kennedy resident Candice Diah, a senior in international business and marketing from Nassau, Bahamas. She had lived in the Morsani residence hall previously.
“The biggest difference is the style,” Diah said. “The focus on artwork. I think it’s really fitting that they chose the theme that they did with the international pieces and all the artifacts. I think it’s a really nice feel. It really represents the University of Tampa, which is a really diverse school.”
West Kennedy is the seventh residence hall built on the UT campus in the last 15 years. That influx of residents is making a mark downtown as students cross the Hillsborough River, said Donna Chen, director of marketing and communications for the Tampa Downtown Partnership.
UT “is a very important component of the downtown for a few different reasons,” she said. “One is they (students) do build onto our critical mass, which is key for a lot of the businesses down here.
“We are seeing more and more of the students coming over to downtown, going to events, using some of the businesses, going to the restaurants,” she said.
“Another piece of it is having the innovative young minds down here that push the envelope,” she said. “They really bring the younger generation’s thoughts and opinions to the table. We embrace that.”