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SPC, St. Pete may partner to expand Midtown campus

ST. PETERSBURG — St. Petersburg College hopes to partner with the city to quadruple the size of its Midtown campus.

The college, which now leases a building at 1048 22nd St. S, has asked the city to consider leasing land it owns down the street so the college can build a 45,000-square-foot facility that will better suit its needs.

The lease deal hasn't yet come before city leaders for a vote, but already some say they're excited about the proposal.

"It's the biggest deal on 22nd Street," said City Council member Karl Nurse, who represents Midtown. "It's the most important thing we can do. If we try to dig out of this recession, one of the major building blocks is education."

Council member Wengay Newton said he's also eager to help the college expand its campus in Midtown.

Mayor Bill Foster said the request demonstrates the college's dedication to the community.

"It's a great commitment on behalf of the college to have a long-term, permanent presence in Midtown. And that is of vital importance," he said.

Last week, St. Petersburg College president Bill Law sent a letter to Foster asking the city to consider leasing 3.74 acres at 22nd Street and 13th Avenue S, just north of the Johnnie Ruth Clarke Health Center.

"We wanted to send a strong signal to the community," Law said. "We are going to be there and we are going to put our best efforts to work through the plan."

The college's Midtown program is housed in a 10,000-square-foot building leased from the St. Petersburg Housing Authority. City and college staff have been working together to find a new site that works for the college and fits the city's vision for the 22nd Street corridor.

"We literally reviewed every vacant property in the Midtown area to see what might suit our needs," Law said.

In his letter , Law requested a "nominal consideration" for a 55-year lease. Generally, those agreements work out to about $1 a year, Foster said.

"That's a topic I will take up with the City Council with a strong recommendation for approval," he said.

For around a decade, the city has been working to revitalize Midtown. The 22nd Street area, which had fallen into decline, was once a thriving strip of commercial activity that mainly served the African-American community.

In 2003, SPC's Midtown Center opened with 83 students. It was one of several projects undertaken by the city to revive the area. That same year, the city built the Johnnie Ruth Clarke Health Center. The iconic Manhattan Casino, a jazz and dance club that once drew famous artists, also got a facelift. In 2005, a supermarket opened, followed by a credit union in 2009.

By 2008, SPC's Midtown campus averaged 300 students per term, but its future was in question because of budget constraints. The college worked to keep the branch open. Since then, enrollment has doubled, with about 600 students enrolled this semester.

The college has selected Harvard Jolly Architecture to design a three-story facility that will complement the health center and other structures, said Susan Reiter, vice president of facilities planning and institutional services.

The new campus will offer a mix of work force programs and academics, Law said, but the details haven't been worked out.

"We still have a lot of work to do with the community," he said.

In October or November, SPC plans to hold a collaborative planning event in Midtown to develop programming and services for the center. The college hopes to break ground on the $13.8 million project next summer and complete the center by summer 2013, Reiter said.

Lorri Helfand can be reached at lorri@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4155.

SPC, St. Pete may partner to expand Midtown campus 09/24/11 [Last modified: Friday, September 23, 2011 3:37pm]
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