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Robert Trigaux

Morsani philanthropic legacy: Wealthy Floridians can give back home but give more here




Frank Morsani, right, with City of St. Petersburg's Rick Dodge back in 1989: Morsani did not get a baseball team in Tampa but he did become the University of South Florida's top giver. Today, with a new $20 million gift, Morsani is honored with the naming of the Morsani College of Medicine at USF. (Photo: Victor Junco, St. Petersburg Times)

Wake up and good morning. Frank Morsani's come a long way. The founder of the Precision auto dealerships and a multi-multi-millionaire, Morsani lead the 1980s/early 1990s campaign by a group of Tampa investors to try and get a Major League Baseball franchise over a simultaneous effort by a group in St. Petersburg and Pinellas County. Said a Miami Herald story in 1983 with the headline Tampa, St. Pete slug it out for a baseball franchise (Keep in mind this was 28 years ago):

"It is the staid, plodding city of St. Petersburg vs. the slick, hustling town of Tampa in a race to bring a major league ball team to Florida. At stake is a brand-new stadium, one city's name on the breast of a big-league uniform, untold millions of dollars and a large measure of community pride. Nobody has ever played quite like these crosstown rivals."

We know the history. Morsani's investor group did not get a franchise and the Tampa Bay Rays, as they are now known, landed in St. Petersburg. And, perhaps, we are about to come full circle, should the Rays -- now clamoring for a new stadium -- end up in Tampa, where Morsani wanted them in the first place.

Here's the St. Petersburg Times coverage of Morsani's latest gift to USF and my related column about how Morsani wants more wealthy Floridians to give money in this state -- not just back home, where they came from.

Frank Morsani admits he gets emotional when it comes to giving money and accepting the publicity of something as prestigious as a medical college being named after him. But there's a business strategy here, too. Both USF Medical School dean Stephen Klasko and Morsani believe a name branded on the USF Medical college can  be leveraged to bring in more money, which will be needed to complete the dreams of USF and Klasko.

morsanifrankcaroloklahomastateuhandout.Morsani and wife Carol, it should be remembered, are not USF grads (in fact, USF did not even exist when they were in their 20s). They are both graduates of Oklahoma State University, where the Morsani couple is already well known for their generosity. The photo of Frank and Carol Morsani, right, comes courtesy of Oklahoma State.

I contacted Oklahoma State to get an update on the Morsani giving there. Among their giving there:

$5 million planned gift to the College of Education, establishing the Frank Morsani Distinguished Chair in Education and the Frank Morsani Distinguished Chair of Excellence in Ethical Leadership to coordinate a university-wide focus on ethics in leadership.

$1 million gift to endow chairs in mathematics and science. Among their other support for the university are various scholarship endowments.

* in 2010, OSU recognized each with an honorary doctorate. They received the Henry G. Bennett Award, which is OSU’s highest humanitarian award, in 2005.

Morsani-Smith Hall is a residential hall named in their honor, as is the College of Education’s annual award for staff excellence.

* Frank Morsani was inducted into the College of Education Hall of Fame in 2000 and the Alumni Association Hall of Fame in 1985.

 "The Morsanis are great philanthropists, and OSU has been fortunate to be the beneficiary of their generosity many times. We are proud to call them alumni and friends," Dr. Robert Davis, interim dean of the College of Education, offered up to me in a statement.

So, you see? You can be a big giver out of state but a bigger giver in the state of Florida. If you've got the bucks and the vision.

-- Robert Trigaux, Business Columnist, St. Petersburg Times, soon to be renamed the Tampa Bay Times





[Last modified: Thursday, December 8, 2011 9:29am]


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