University of South Florida will play a role when St. Petersburg officials talk about the future of the Tropicana Field site.
“We’ve already talked to the city and said we want to be at the table whenever the discussion gets serious about what the city wants to do with that space. They know that and they want us at the table,” Martin Tadlock, regional chancellor at University of South Florida St. Petersburg, told the St. Pete Catalyst.
St. Petersburg development officials said last week the city is preparing a request for proposals to find a private developer to turn the 86-acre site into a mixed-use property, with a focus on the city’s Grow Smarter business development strategy and research opportunities.
Mayor Rick Kriseman said he is confident the city can move forward with development plans, despite statements by the Tampa Bay Rays that a use agreement between the city and the Rays would allow them to block development.
The land is one of the “one of the best sites you can imagine” for redevelopment and can change the dynamic of the city, consultants hired by Duke Energy to study the Trop site said at the State of the St. Petersburg Economy presentation.
But the city faces stiff competition from other fast-growing cities as it works to attract high-profile businesses and projects to the site, and higher education participation in the development process is key, the consultants said.
The redevelopment process coincides with consolidation at USF, as the university brings the Tampa, St. Petersburg and Sarasota campuses under a single accreditation.
“USF is a research powerhouse. Now we’re One USF,” Tadlock said.
He was referring to the “one university, geographically distributed” concept that USF President Steve Currall has promoted.
“Historically we’ve been a regional university, where research and scholarship matters, but it’s not been a ‘research intensive’ campus. Now it is, and so faculty loads will adjust, support for research for our faculty will have to increase, and the importance of research will go up here. It will support where the city wants to go,” Tadlock told the Catalyst.
“If they’re looking at an R&D park, for example, of course it will matter. It will be One USF, so all the research support existing at USF will come to bear here, with local faculty here involved in that. It will be us working with the city as One USF and St. Pete faculty and staff involved intimately with whatever happens there.”
He expected a discussion between Currall, Kriseman and others to be scheduled for sometime this spring.
Tadlock spoke to the Catalyst after a campus forum providing an update on consolidation, including newly revised organizational charts that Tadlock said better reflect that the St. Petersburg campus will be a branch campus. Branch campus status involves a local administrative structure with oversight for the campus, local budget authority and control over academic programming.
There were about 75 people at the forum, mostly USFSP faculty members, and some of them had questions about equity, or assuring services and support for students, faculty and staff are delivered equitably across all campuses.
“We will be addressing equity issues. We must,” Tadlock said, citing a $30 million funding request for consolidation.
“That funding should lift the entire USF and help address equity issues, because we have those as you know. So there will be load adjustments that need to be made in teaching. There will be research support that needs to come that faculty haven’t had traditionally in the past, and there will be salary equity issues as well,” Tadlock said. “I think the load adjustments will happen first. I think the research support hopefully will come in the funding, and then I think salary adjustments will be made over time. That’s my best guess and the word I’ve been getting about how this could best be addressed.”
Nothing is set in stone until the final documents are sent to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, the university’s accrediting agency, Tadlock said. Those documents are scheduled to be sent no later than March 15.
He urged those at the forum not to focus too much on the organizational charts.
“It’s about the people,” Tadlock said. “Eventually after all the noise and everything settles down, we’re going to be doing what we do now. We’re going to be taking care of business here, the student success here.”