Graduate who founded tech firm ConnectWise gives Tampa Catholic a $7 million gift

Arnie Bellini, left, speaking at a 2015 news conference in Tampa, announced Thursday that he is giving his alma mater Tampa Catholic High School a $7 million gift. [CHRIS URSO   |   Times (2015)]
Arnie Bellini, left, speaking at a 2015 news conference in Tampa, announced Thursday that he is giving his alma mater Tampa Catholic High School a $7 million gift. [CHRIS URSO | Times (2015)]
Published May 21, 2019

TAMPA — Arnie Bellini said he's proud he was able to create some 1,000 high-tech jobs worldwide before he stepped down as chief executive of ConnectWise, the Tampa software firm he founded with his brother.

"So I now have a perfect blueprint," Bellini said Thursday, "to reproduce it at mass scale."

Toward that end, Bellini announced a gift of $7 million to his alma mater, Tampa Catholic High School, saying it was a down payment on a $70 million contribution over the next 20 years to education and other causes in the Tampa Bay area.

The goal, he said, is to create 70,000 local high-tech jobs.

The announcement was met with cheers from students, alumni and others gathered in the Tampa Catholic gym to hear Bellini. His gift is the largest ever to a Catholic elementary or high school in Florida, said Robert Lees, Tampa Catholic's principal.

The school will use the money for five building projects across the school's campus on North Rome Avenue in the Wellswood neighborhood. They include a student activities center, a fitness center, academic arcade, center for the arts and sports installations.

The money provided a big boost to an ongoing fund-raising campaign, Lees said. The total cost of the building projects is expected to reach $23 million.

Bellini, 60, entered the gym to the sound of the Tampa Catholic drum corps, wearing the gold head and green cape of the Crusader mascot.

"Tampa Catholic prepared me for what I was able to accomplish and set me up for the success that I ended up achieving,'' Bellini said in an interview. "It's that simple.''

The $70 million in investments will go toward education as well as venture capital and local businesses, Bellini said.

"So it's a holistic approach completely focused on Tampa Bay, completely focused on the goal of creating 70,000 high-paying, high-tech jobs of tomorrow.''

Opened in 1962, Tampa Catholic has grown to an enrollment of more than 760 students and has 9,100 alumni, according to its website. The school features a college preparatory curriculum with 99 percent of its graduates continuing their education at a college or university. The school is operated by the Congregation of Christian Brothers, a religious order, and is part of the Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg.

Bellini received degrees from the University of Florida and the University of South Florida's College of Business. He and his family owned about 60 percent of ConnectWise.

Bellini, a 1975 TC graduate, launched ConnectWise with his brother David in 1982 in a bedroom of their parents' Tampa home. The company has grown explosively over the past decade and now has revenues of $240 million a year, with seven offices in the United States, India, the United Kingdom and Australia.

The sale of ConnectWise was announced in February along with news that the deal was expected to create 300 new local jobs in coming years and pay $270 million to about 1,000 employees — 70 who would receive $1 million or more.

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But 110 employees, 81 of them in Tampa, also lost their jobs in a company-wide realignment. The cuts followed the first analysis of the company's jobs since it started an aggressive series of acquisitions.

Bellini is one of a number of wealthy benefactors who have donated millions to private and charter schools in Tampa.

Bob Gries Jr., founder and managing partner of Gries Investment Fund, has donated a total of $6 million to Berkeley Preparatory School. He donated $4 million five years ago to build the Gries Center for Arts and Sciences at Berkeley and, in 2016, matched $2 million in gifts for another school capital campaign.

In 2012, the foundation of David A. Straz Jr., the retired banker who recently lost a bid to be Tampa mayor, donated an unspecified amount of money to build the Straz Family Field House, a 900-seat facility at Berkeley.

Retired banker Ted Couch Sr. gave $3.5 million toward the building of the Chapel of the Holy Cross at Jesuit High School, which was dedicated last year. More recently, Ron Antinori, founder and CEO of Antinori Software, Inc., and his wife Susan donated $2 million toward Jesuit's master improvements plan.

And local cardiologist and philanthropist Kiren C. Patel donated $20 million to build Dr. Kiran C. Patel High School, a 57,000-square foot building in Temple Terrace.