Florida and the nation are facing an unprecedented challenge in preparing for rising sea levels and stronger storms — and now we have an unprecedented opportunity to invest in a transformational project to help us meet that challenge.
The Florida Legislature is considering an ambitious proposal to create a new center of excellence on the University of South Florida St. Petersburg campus that will address coastal resiliency, sustainability and economic vitality. USF is seeking at least $30 million toward the $60 million in public money it needs for a new Environmental & Oceanographic Sciences Research & Teaching Facility. The facility will build upon the world-class reputation of the USF College of Marine Science and house the USF Interdisciplinary Center of Excellence in Environmental and Oceanographic Sciences.
This smart investment would pay enormous dividends for Tampa Bay and all of Florida, and we appreciate House Speaker Chris Sprowls’ support of this forward-looking project. It’s a remarkable opportunity to launch new interdisciplinary programs and create a national destination for researchers to focus on issues such as coastal resiliency and sustainability. It will prepare students for high-paying jobs in all sorts of occupations, and it will help preserve and enhance the state economy.
For example, the facility also will house the Florida Flood Hub for Applied Research and Innovation. Its research on the effects of rising sea levels and its potential to improve our ability to forecast flooding will be extremely useful. If there’s any doubt, check out the Tampa Bay Times’ Rising Threat series which reports how a tropical storm like Eta in November 2020 — which only brushed by Tampa Bay — will flood thousands of additional homes and businesses in the region in 2050 because of rising sea levels.
The center’s work will help further refine how we evaluate flooding risk and price flood insurance. The facility will be just blocks from Neptune Flood, the nation’s largest private flood insurance company. Neptune has hired dozens of recent college graduates for high-paying tech jobs, and the well-trained students from this USF center will be in high demand in all sorts of businesses.
This project, which will be funded with $20 million from USF in addition to the $60 million from the state, also should produce big benefits in the ways we design new communities — such as the redevelopment of the Tropicana Field site in St. Petersburg and other projects in Miami and throughout Florida.
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The center’s research will give us new insights on how to design more sustainable and resilient communities. It could help developers evaluate how to best elevate new buildings and by how much in areas that may not be impacted by flooding now but will be in the future. It could educate us about how to deal with older buildings that cannot be feasibly raised or retrofitted with current technology. Its research also could influence how we design more walkable communities and how state building codes could be strengthened to better protect us all in stronger storms.
More broadly, the center’s interdisciplinary programs and its research will help ensure Florida’s economy continues to thrive. Tourism contributes more than $96 billion a year to the state economy, and it’s essential that we learn how to better protect our beaches and our precious coastlines.
With the leadership of the House speaker and others, Florida has been investing more in resiliency and sustainability. Now they have an opportunity to make a transformational investment in building this new center of excellence on USF’s St. Petersburg campus that will benefit all of Florida and the nation.
Trevor Burgess is CEO of Neptune Flood, the nation’s largest private flood insurance company, in St. Petersburg. Dean Warhaft is a Miami developer and CEO of the Warhaft Group.