Tuesday, April 24, 2018
Business

USF St. Petersburg College of Business plans to open its own building

After years without its own home, the College of Business at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg is about to put down solid roots on the downtown campus.

The university plans to erect a three-story, 66,000-square-foot building for its College of Business on 2.5 prime acres that now houses the "Piano Man" building, so called for its original role as a piano store.

USF St. Petersburg interim chancellor Bill Hogarth says the university expects to open the new facility for the fall 2015 semester.

Expected cost for the project: $25 million.

A building of its own can't come quickly enough. The College of Business boasts 1,800 undergraduate students and 200 graduate students. It is also home of a red-hot program that teaches the ways of innovation and business startups that in January was named the "outstanding emerging entrepreneurship program" in the United States by the U.S. Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship.

Not bad for a program in its third year.

The College of Business, led by dean Maling Ebrahimpour, does many things well. But its more recent entrepreneurial focus dovetails with a larger awakening in St. Petersburg and the region's business community to encourage local startups. The St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce is exploring fresh ways to make the business scene more appealing to young, creative adults. And a business incubator called Sproutcamp is making some early noise about a downtown presence.

"A lot of good things are happening in the College of Business," Hogarth says. "That's why we need to get them into their own building."

The last home of the College of Business was the third floor of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration building near the south edge of the campus. Since then, faculty and students have been parceled out across the St. Petersburg campus in whatever space, nook and cranny was available.

That's not a good way to recruit business students or keep quality faculty. And the inevitable comparison with the separately run, 6,400-student College of Business on the larger USF campus in Tampa only added to the campus frustration that USF St. Pete's business school was lagging behind.

At one point, the business school was headed for the old Salvador Dali museum building on the edge of campus. But that building is a warren of small rooms and dark hallways and proved too daunting to overhaul.

More recently, the business school was considered for a choice campus spot next to the relatively new science and technology center and close to the very new university student center. That idea was nixed. Additional study zeroed in on the "Piano Man" space at 301 Third St. S.

Plans for the new business school were unveiled Thursday afternoon in anticipation of the start of the state legislative session this coming Tuesday. The university seeks state funding for the new facility.

USF also seeks private donors to the new business building. Anybody want their name on the entire College of Business? How about a hallway? USF phone operators are standing by.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at [email protected]

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