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David A. Straz Jr. gave a lot to charity. Here’s just how much.

The David A. Straz Jr Foundation donated more than $33 million to dozens of organizations in nearly 20 years
Published Nov. 19, 2019
Updated Nov. 19, 2019

TAMPA — Philanthropist David A. Straz Jr. was known for his generosity.

The scope of his giving is hard to calculate, but Straz, who died Monday, spent decades donating to the arts, education and community foundations.

He created the David A. Straz Jr Foundation in the 1990s to manage his charitable giving. A Tampa Bay Times analysis of IRS forms for the foundation dating to 2001, the earliest available, show that Straz donated more than $33 million to dozens of organizations in nearly 20 years.

His long-term contributions led to the naming of at least half a dozen buildings in his honor, including several across town and others on university campuses. The announcements of those dedications often left out the monetary investment Straz made, instead recognizing his commitment to the community.

Here’s what we know about some of the organizations with whom Straz was most generous.

David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts

Building: The entire Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center was renamed after Straz.

Year of dedication: 2009

Amount donated since 2001: $11 million

Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center was renamed the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts after he donated a substantial sum. Per Straz’s wishes, the size of the gift was never disclosed. Estimates at the time pegged it at $25 million, which Judy Lisi, president and CEO of the Straz Center, said was “close enough.”

“It was probably the largest single gift in Tampa at the time,” she said.

Straz donated an average of $20,000 to the performing arts center for years before it bore his name. In 2010, that annual contribution jumped to about $1.2 million.

Straz was also a donor and director at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, giving nearly $5 million since 2001. When Lisi co-founded Opera Tampa in 1996, Straz and his wife Catherine “became very important to us,” she said.

They held season passes to everything, attending as many shows as possible, especially opera and Broadway. David Straz and Lisi met annually to discuss the center’s growth, and how he could help. In 2009, that conversation steered them toward the gift that would put Straz’s name on the building.

University of Tampa

Building: Straz Hall dormitory

Year of dedication: 2005

Amount donated since 2001: $3.2 million

The eight-story, $18-million N Boulevard dormitory, formerly Stadium Place, is an apartment-style building that houses more than 480 students. Straz was the incoming chairman of the board of trustees in 2005, when the building was dedicated.

Upon the building’s opening, University of Tampa president Ron Vaughn noted the Clyde Butcher photographs in the lobby and nature artworks on every floor of the 173,000-square-foot dorm. Pointing to a sparkling amethyst rock known for its healing and soothing effects, he quipped. “I hope it works on our students.”

Straz was a member of the board of trustees from 1996 to 2009, serving as an ambassador-at-large in 2019. He consistently donated about $10,000 a year to the university, but those numbers jumped to an average of $210,000 between 2004 and 2010.

ZooTampa at Lowry Park

Building: David A. Straz, Jr. Manatee Critical Care Center

Year of dedication: 2000

Amount donated since 2001: $1.9 million

Visitors to ZooTampa at Lowry Park can observe as sick and injured manatees are treated by animal keepers thanks to Straz’s donations. The zoo opened its manatee treatment facilities to the public in November 2000 after it was renamed for Straz. The area, filled with holding pools, pumps and water filtering systems, previously was visible only on special, behind-the-scenes tours.

Zoo officials declined to give the exact amount of the Straz family donation at the time, but called it “a leadership amount” and compared it with recent gifts ranging from $500,000 to $2 million.

Since 1991, the manatee care and veterinary team have treated over 400 manatees with more than 230 of those reintroduced into Florida waters, according to the zoo’s website.

The zoo announced plans in 2010 to raise $10 million to build a new animal hospital and animal science center as part of an expansion of its zoological and conservation programs. Straz donated more than $1.1 million to the zoo in the five years following the announcement.

Berkeley Preparatory School

Building: Straz Family Field House

Year dedicated: 2012

Amount donated since 2001: $2.7 million

Completed in summer 2012, the 53,000 square-foot Straz Family Field House sought to bring world-class amenities to the 900-seat gymnasium that showcased basketball, volleyball, and other court sports. The Straz field house has hosted national high school volleyball and basketball tournaments and served as a practice venue for NCAA teams visiting the area for regional and national competitions.

“We are honored and inspired by the Straz family’s commitment to help us achieve our mission of providing the best possible educational environment for our students,” Berkeley’s headmaster, Joseph Seivold, said at the time. “David and Catherine Straz truly embrace Berkeley’s vision and are great champions of excellence both here and throughout the Tampa Bay region.”

Straz was a long-time donor to the school, averaging over $8,000 a year in donations in the 2000s. That number jumped to $380,000 annually since the construction of the field house.

Other notable donations

Metropolitan Opera in New York: $4.8 million since 2001.

Marquette University: $4.6 million since 2001. Multiple campus buildings are named after Straz, who is an alumnus, including the business school.

Carthage College: $768,000 since 2001. The David A. Straz, Jr. Center houses the college’s world business center and science center.

Times senior news research Caryn Baird contributed to this report.