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As wealthy loosen purse strings, is Tampa Bay philanthropy on the upswing?

Les and Pam Muma gave $25 million to USF’s business school. At left is school president Judy Genshaft.
Les and Pam Muma gave $25 million to USF’s business school. At left is school president Judy Genshaft.
Published Oct. 28, 2014

After a post-recession lull in giving by the wealthy, Tampa Bay area universities are enjoying a charitable bonanza that some area philanthropists hope will accelerate in the coming years.

In recent months, two of the University of South Florida business schools have become recipients of a total of $35 million. In Tampa, USF named its school the Muma College of Business following a $25 million gift from USF boosters Les and Pam Muma. And retired entrepreneur Kate Tiedemann's $10 million gift to the school at smaller USF St. Petersburg resulted in its new name: the Kate Tiedemann College of Business.

Now comes another $10 million to the University of Tampa from Howard and Patricia Jenkins, part of the Publix Super Markets founding family's philanthropy. Combined, those three gifts mean $45 million for area universities that, so far this year, rank among the top donations in the Sunshine State by individual philanthropies.

Large-scale giving during the recession and in the tepid recovery proved spotty at best.

In 2013, the area's largest single gift was a $2.7 million bequest in Bradenton to the Manatee Community Foundation.

In 2012, the area's standout gift was the $12 million donation from Kiran and Pallavi Patel to USF.

In 2011, Frank and Carol Morsani gave $20 million and put their name on USF's Morsani College of Medicine — a decision at the time that Frank Morsani told me he hoped would spur more people of means to give to their communities.

Not that rich Floridians give only to Florida institutions. The opposite in fact has proved true for many years, with the wealthy who call Florida home (at least for tax purposes) spreading plenty of charity to other states, especially to their alma maters and health organizations back up North. For example, Worcester Polytechnic Institute alum and paper processing manufacturer Robert Foisie, now of Port St. Lucie, gave $40 million — the largest contribution ever — to his Massachusetts school in 2014.

Once in a while, major giving works in Florida's favor. The University of Florida's business school, already known as the Warrington College of Business, this year received its latest and greatest pledge of money — $75 million — from Alfred Warrington (class of '58) of Texas. He founded a business called Sanifill, now better known as Waste Management. That sum is the largest donation made to any organization in Florida this year; the Muma's $25 million to USF ranks second in size.

Is this the start of an upswing in substantial giving fueled by a burst of inheritance money, the increasing retirement of rich baby boomers and — so far — a stock market that has nearly tripled since 2009 and concentrated even more money in the hands of the super-wealthy?

It comes as no surprise that business schools now enjoy the bounty of aging graduates and those who appreciate and benefitted from the skills of hard work and capitalism.

Contact Robert Trigaux at rtrigaux@tampabay.com.