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USF St. Petersburg eyes city-owned SRI building for expansion

Margie Manning

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SRI St. Petersburg, 450 8th Ave. SE (Google maps)

University of South Florida St. Petersburg remains in expansion mode, even as consolidation for the University of South Florida’s three campuses move forward.

Martin Tadlock

USFSP has plans to add several academic programs, and the school is talking to the city of St. Petersburg about where to house its growing offerings, Regional Chancellor Martin Tadlock told the St. Petersburg City Council.

“We’re in conversations with the city right now about the SRI facility and becoming engaged in that facility, so that we can start moving forward in the future to use that facility as an expansion area which we desperately need to bring these things to St. Petersburg. We’re working with the city on a possible lease in order to do that,” Tadlock said at Thursday’s City Council meeting.

SRI, a nonprofit scientific research institute, opened a research facility in the 38,000-square-foot city-owned property at 450 8th Ave. SE about a decade ago. SRI planned to employ as many as 100 people, but the company later shifted strategy and has far fewer workers on site now.

The city has been working with USFSP on a master lease for the building, said Alan DeLisle, the city’s economic development director.

“The goal is for the University to take the first floor and sublease to SRI to stay on the second floor. We expect to conclude these discussions by the end of the first quarter next year,” DeLisle wrote in an email to the St. Pete Catalyst.

He expects to ask the City Council next week for a three-month lease extension for SRI, “to give us the time we need to conclude this three-party agreement that is good for the Innovation District, USFSP, SRI and good for the City’s Port Enterprise Fund.”

The new space could provide room for a wide array of academic programs, a spokeswoman for USFSP said.

USF President Steve Currall has suggested housing research centers of excellence for oceanographic and environmental sciences, STEM education and journalism and digital communication at USFSP.

“Those are natural areas that we already have expertise and depth in, and we have community connections that are absolutely important for those to move forward,” Tadlock said. “You also need to know that we’ve talked about future plans, and we are taking steps to move in this direction, to bring engineering-related programs to St. Petersburg, biomedical sciences, and fine and performing arts, which we absolutely need in St. Pete because it aligns with the importance of the arts in the city.”

In addition, Tadlock is talking with the College of Arts and Sciences in USF Tampa about bringing several academically-related programs to St. Petersburg that resonate with the city. They include the Institute on Russia, the Water Institute, the Center for the Advancement of Food Security and Healthy Communities, and Humanities Institute.

“All of those institutes and centers bring with them research dollars, external awards and grant opportunities that are sitting in Tampa right now. We want them in St. Petersburg,” Tadlock said.

‘People aren’t going to drive across the bridge’

Consolidation, which will bring USF’s three separately accredited campuses under a single accreditation, plays a key role in program expansion.

“We’re going to take advantage of consolidation to get those programs over here, because people aren’t going to drive across the bridge. We need to offer them here,” Tadlock said. “We’re not in competition any longer so let’s bring the programs over here. We plan to do it. It’s just going to take some time.”

The USF board of trustees earlier this week voted to advance consolidation plans. Once those plans are approved by the Florida Board of Governors, they’ll be sent to the university’s accrediting body for review.

“Right now, as soon as that change request goes forward to SACS [Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges] in Atlanta, everything freezes in terms of new programming until they approve the consolidated USF,” Tadlock said. “So we’re going to be frozen for about a year in the implementation of new programming that we want to create over here, but we can still bring existing programs here. That’s not going to be frozen.”

Accreditors will take up the consolidation plans next spring, with a site visit planned at all three USF campuses next fall. The accreditors could accept the plan as submitted or could ask for changes. It likely will be spring of 2021 before the accreditors make a final decision on consolidation, Tadlock said.

Some consolidation issues remain outstanding.

“We’re still talking about thing like the extent of authority delegated to the leadership on this campus. We still have things we’re working through on reporting line relationships, the control of budget and how budget can be allocated and managed here locally,” Tadlock said. “There’s a lot of in the weeds kind of things that are going to happen in the spring … The operational piece now kicks in and it’s going to be continuing conversations.”

Tadlock thanked council members who supported legislation that designated USFSP and USF Sarasota-Manatee as “branch campuses.” That broadly gave the campuses budget and administrative authority, he said.

“Continuing to support both the letter of the law and the intent of a branch campus definition is very important to us because it gives us those things we feel we need to continue to address locally, the things that we know best,” Tadlock said. “We’re on the ground 100 percent of the time with these students. We’re not an hour away.”

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