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Community Voices: Historic legislative session for USF St. Pete campus

Caryn Nesmith



USF St. Pete
Photo: University of South Florida.

Welcome to the Catalyst’s Community Voices platform. We’ve curated community leaders and thinkers from all parts of our great city to speak on issues that affect us all. Visit our Community Voices page for more details.

What a time for the University of South Florida. The Florida Legislature released its budget on March 10 which includes the largest single-year investment in operational support that USF has received in its history.  The funding – both recurring to increase USF’s operational budget and one-time funds for facilities and construction priorities – will completely transform the St. Petersburg campus.

The USF St. Petersburg campus centered prominently as USF’s top legislative priority this year for the first time ever, with the request for funding of the USF Interdisciplinary Center of Excellence on Environmental and Oceanographic Sciences Research and Teaching Facility. Legislators allocated $75 million for the project, more than the $60 million the campus hoped to receive. The facility will provide state-of-the-art research and instructional space for both graduate and undergraduate students.  

RELATED STORY: Legislature allocates $75 million for new USFSP scientific research facility

USF leaders issued letters of praise and thanks:  “While we are still awaiting a final vote on the budget, we feel very positive about the current situation and I echo President Law’s comments on the tremendous impact these allocations will have on our university and our campus,” USF St. Petersburg campus Regional Chancellor Martin Tadlock said.

“We are incredibly thankful to our Pinellas County legislative delegation, particularly House Speaker and USF alumnus Chris Sprowls, for being unwavering supporters of our campus. Thanks to their dedication and hard work, we are starting a new chapter in our history, one that is filled with exciting opportunities for students and faculty, as well as tremendous benefit for our community.”    

The Center of Excellence will harness the talents of faculty and staff throughout USF and work together to address challenges such as resiliency and sustainability. It will attract more world class faculty, students and businesses looking to build a talent pipeline. It will benefit the region and the state with an estimated economic impact of $40 million per year, and the nation and world will benefit from expertise related to sea level rise and high-tide flood events, and more.

In addition to the Legislature’s investments, other highlights specific to our campus included:  

  • $3 million in recurring funds added to our operating budget  
  • $306,176 to fully fund the operations of the Citizens Scholars Partnership program. This innovative program is the first of its kind in the state and gives Florida high school students the opportunity to earn college credit while gaining hands-on experience in government and public service. Professor Judithanne McLauchlan leads the initiative and has worked tirelessly to make it a success.  

We are particularly thankful to the community whose incredible support resonated loudly and clearly in support to get us this far. Tadlock particularly issued thanks to Jason Mathis, CEO of the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership; Alison Barlow, executive director of the Innovation District; and Cynthia Johnson, director of Pinellas County Economic Development, St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch; former mayor Rick Kriseman and deputy mayor Kanika Tomalin; the members of the St. Petersburg City Council; and the Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners.  

Nothing is final until the budget is signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis. However, we are buoyant over this potential investment by the legislature and take it as a vote of confidence in our campus.


Community Support

Resolution in support of the EOS Center from St. Petersburg City Council (.pdf)

Jason Mathis, CEO of the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership: “This will be a game changer, not just for USF and our Innovation District, but for the way we think about managing rising oceans and flooding and severe weather in coastal communities. Research from this facility will help shape the insurance industry, environmental engineering, zoning and real estate development decisions. It will make our cities more resilient and connect the many different marine science elements that are already part of this campus.”

Alison Barlow, executive director of the St. Petersburg Innovation District, and Bemetra Simmons, president and CEO of the Tampa Bay Partnership: “This new center of excellence would have a significant impact throughout Tampa Bay. Its work certainly would benefit Port Tampa Bay and MacDill Air Force Base. The region’s growing reputation as a destination for business start-ups would be enhanced. The researchers, students and high-paying jobs it attracts also would improve our standing in the Tampa Bay Partnership’s annual Regional Competitiveness Report, which ranks us in various categories against our peers such as Orlando, Charlotte and Nashville.”

Barry Burton, Pinellas County Administrator: “Pinellas County recognizes the importance of the advancements being made in the industries such as marine science, technology, and other industry sectors at USF St. Petersburg and within the St. Pete Innovation District. The Board of County Commissioners is committed to making a significant investment to the economic development of the industry clusters in this area and Pinellas County with the construction of a new incubator, ARK Innovation Center. Now is the time to capitalize on the District’s growing reputation of innovation and entrepreneurship and create a premiere destination for degree programs and research in environmental and oceanographic science.”

Trevor Burgess, CEO of Neptune Flood, and Dean Warhaft, CEO of the Warhaft Group: “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.”

Ed Montanari, St. Petersburg City Council Member: “The legislative investment in the Center of Excellence will strengthen USF St. Petersburg campus’ ability to reach its full potential and catapult the region’s expertise nationally and globally in the environmental and oceanographic sciences.”

Caryn Nesmith is director of community relations at USF, a position jointly funded by the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership, the St. Petersburg Innovation District, the City of St. Petersburg and USF. This is a series focused on USF and its role in our community, serving to strengthen the prosperity of St. Petersburg and Pinellas County. You can contact Caryn at  carynn@usf.edu



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