District and college officials broke ground Wednesday on a new $40 million student center at the University of the District of Columbia, a building expected to become a new gateway to the often overlooked university.

The building, funded primarily with tax dollars, will be built on the school’s under utilized plaza facing Connecticut Avenue in Van Ness.

When completed in the spring of 2013, the building is expected to serve as a catalyst for improving both the university’s image as well ongoing efforts to revitalize the Van Ness corridor.

“I really think the aesthetics of this student center will redefine the campus,” said Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D), who has made the school one of his top priorities.

Designed to be only the third Platinum LEED certified building in the District, the 87,000-square-foot structure represents a major boost for Gray’s vision for converting UDC into a well-respected university. The building will house a ballroom, fitness center, offices for student activities, retail and a food court.

In 2009, when he was council chairman, Gray steered $35 million in the budget to the project. The remaining $5 million will be paid through student fees.

The project is part of a broader effort by UDC President Allen L. Sessoms to revitalize the college. Earlier this year, in another partnership with the city, UDC opened a new law school building on Connecticut Avenue.

After the student center is built, the college also plans to move forward with plans to construct on-campus housing for up to 600 students.

“I don’t know that the stars have ever been aligned like this before for the university,” D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown (D) said at the ground breaking.