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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

USF St. Pete might buy new building. USF Tampa might get new village center.



Real estate talks and improvement plans are in the air at University of South Florida campuses around the region.

The University of South Florida St. Petersburg is going through a growth period, but running out of room. Now, officials are in negotiations to buy a new building.

"USF St. Petersburg has seen significant enrollment growth in the last couple years, thus creating additional demand for academic and administrative spaces," said USFSP chancellor Sophia Wisniewska at a USF Board of Trustees workshop Thursday held at USF Sarasota Manatee. "We are nearly landlocked with the bay, the airport... hampering our ability to expand."

University officials are looking at a 10,000-square-foot building owned by Gulfcoast Legal Services contiguous with university property. USF originally offered $850,000 in 2012, then looked closer at the building, which is not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act and needs new doors and an elevator, plus other improvements involving asbestos and soil. After inspections, USF changed its offer to $735,000, and Gulfcoast countered with $775,000. The deal is still going back and forth.

Possible uses of the building? It could be a single-roof location for the graduate program at the school, or it could be used by the College of Business. USF could also rent the space to a tenant. Or, the building could be demolished and rebuilt or reserved for parking.

"This piece of property is really embedded in the USF St. Petersburg footprint, so I think it's a very important piece to have," said USF system president Judy Genshaft.

But Genshaft had concerns about leasing the building back to someone else, a scenario in which USF would absorb the costs of making the building ADA compliant.

"Given the state of that building, just from eyeballing it, it really needs to be torn down," she said. "To put money into it is throwing good money after a really shabby facility, is what my sense of it is."

The Board of Trustees work group instructed USFSP officials to come up with more specifics about what they want to use the building for and what the associated costs would be, then bring their plans back to the board at a later meeting.

Big improvements are also moving down the pipe at USF in Tampa. Officials are working toward establishing a public-private funding partnership to redevelop the 50-year-old Andros complex into a village town center. The complex, which now has 1,039 beds, could be upgraded to have as many as 2,500 beds, plus retail, dining and recreational opportunities for students.

"This isn't about building more apartment complexes on any of our campuses," said USF provost Ralph Wilcox. "We've got plenty of those springing up around us. This is about bringing a vibrant, productive living and learning community onto our campuses."

The private-public financial setup will be a model for the other USF campuses to use as they seek to develop and build in an era when public funding for higher education is dwindling. The project will likely be discussed in more detail at USF's regular board meeting in December.

[Last modified: Thursday, November 7, 2013 1:03pm]


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