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St. Petersburg College may close Midtown campus

ST. PETERSBURG — St. Petersburg College's Midtown campus, long regarded by city officials as a significant part of the low-income area's continued revitalization, could be permanently shut down by the fall, school officials say.

Eager to reduce costs and expand its growing downtown campus, President Carl Kuttler said the college has alerted City Hall that the 22nd Street S center might be vacant by Sept. 30.

The news is a blow to Mayor Rick Baker's campaign to economically uplift Midtown, one of the city's poorest areas.

"Everything we are doing in Midtown is important," said Baker. "It has been good for the people of Midtown to have that kind of close access for the coursework that is done there. I am hopeful that they will reconsider."

But Kuttler said even if the college reopens the predominantly black campus for another year, his long-term plans do not include a Midtown facility. Instead, the college wants to strengthen its nearby downtown campus.

"We have less money and less money and we are trying to evolve. You just can't do everything," he said. "Midtown was never built as a permanent facility. It was only built until we expanded our downtown campus."

Funding devoted to the Midtown campus would be used instead to assist minority students, Kuttler said.

"We are supportive of Midtown and we are not going to let Midtown fail," he said.

The college leases the Midtown site — a one-story, 10,000-square-foot building — from the St. Petersburg Housing Authority for $46,000 a year. It spends another $130,000 on maintenance and security, Kuttler said.

The college shares its campus with WorkNet Pinellas, a nonprofit that contributes $46,000 in annual rent. WorkNet, which recently lost $500,000 in federal funding, told the college it will most likely not be able to continue at the Midtown campus.

That financial loss was a significant factor in the college's decision to leave Midtown, Kuttler said.

The Midtown campus opened in September 2003 with 83 students. It was hailed as an economic stimulus for the 22nd Street S business corridor.

There are 93 part-time students enrolled at the campus today, Kuttler said.

Deputy Mayor Goliath Davis, who oversees Midtown, said he assumed the campus would play a permanent role in the community.

If the campus closes, "it means that a service that is very well needed in that corridor would be gone," he said.

Cristina Silva can be reached at csilva@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8846.

St. Petersburg College may close Midtown campus 05/17/08 [Last modified: Monday, May 19, 2008 2:06pm]
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