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DeSantis signals he will support USF science center next year, officials say

The governor has nothing against the project slated for the St. Petersburg campus, according to trustees chairperson Will Weatherford.
A rendering of the Environmental and Oceanographic Sciences building planned for the University of South Florida's St. Petersburg campus.
A rendering of the Environmental and Oceanographic Sciences building planned for the University of South Florida's St. Petersburg campus. [ University of South Florida ]
Published Jun. 15|Updated Jun. 15

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ veto of $75 million for a new oceanographic science center on the University of South Florida’s St. Petersburg campus caught many local leaders by surprise earlier this month.

The center had been USF’s top legislative priority, and some wondered if there was something about the project the governor didn’t like.

But that’s not the case, according to USF board of trustees chairperson Will Weatherford.

Weatherford, a former Florida House Speaker, said at a trustees’ meeting Wednesday that he had met with DeSantis and his staff and came away encouraged.

“I had a very strong conversation and productive conversation with him and his staff, and I want everyone to know there was not a philosophical challenge or issue with the building,” Weatherford said. “I think some of it had to do with the amount of resources that it was, kind of a lot of money going at one time to a facility. But the governor and his team assured me that if it comes back up again next year, they’re going to be supportive.”

The project remained at the top of the university’s capital improvement projects priority list for the next year to be approved by the Board of Governors.

USF president Rhea Law thanked the St. Petersburg community for rallying around the center.

“I just want to assure you it is still the top of our list,” Law told trustees Wednesday. “We are not going to miss a beat. We’re going to spend this year planning. We’re going to take a look at that building and the programming of that building, and we’re going to work together and going to go back to the legislature next year and present this and make it happen. Because it’s important to our community, it’s important to the university as a whole, and it’s certainly important to St. Petersburg.”

She turned to Weatherford.

“We’re going back, and we’re going back strong. Right?” she asked.

Weatherford agreed.

He and Law also praised Tallahassee leaders for what they called a historic legislative session, with more than $244 million in new funds going to the university.

“You take the good with the bad, but there was a whole lot more good than bad this year,” Weatherford said.

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