USF campus enhancements mean opportunities for Manatee businesses

jsalman@bradenton.comAugust 12, 2012 

MANATEE -- Local officials believe the expansion plan touted by the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee will bring an economic boon to an aging corner of the community.

The university's plan to invest $50 million during the next five years is expected to grow the campus, double enrollment and enhance higher education opportunities in southern Manatee County.

But business leaders also predict the development will spruce up a blighted corridor along U.S. 41 now plagued by vacant storefronts, empty lots and low-income housing.

The university's expansion -- if successful -- will open the door to a myriad of business opportunities by tapping into the increased consumer traffic one step behind, predicts Barry Seidel, president and broker of American Property Group in Sarasota.

"If the university starts to develop this, everything else will follow," Seidel said. "We will have more places supported by the kids instead of the hookers, homeless and drug dealers that live there now. This is the gateway into our area, and it's a disgrace there's been no incentive to develop until now."

USF's plan calls for a new $25 million academic hub, on-campus housing and an aquatic center on the Powel Crosley Estate. The total investment during the first five years is expected to reach $50 million.

As part of the expansion, USF also will develop some commercial property lining U.S. 41 through public-private partnerships as a means to encourage new services that cater to students -- like coffee shops, retail and pizza parlors.

The university would house offices and other services on the second floor of those

buildings, said Dennis Stover, regional vice chancellor for advancement and university relations.

The idea is for other private businesses to then also migrate there to be a part of the revitalization.

"That will happen fairly quickly," Stover said. "We have already put some feelers out there and businesses have been talking to us about the opportunities."

About 4,500 students now are enrolled at USF Sarasota-Manatee. As the plan unfolds, the college expects that number to double -- also creating about 100 new positions through faculty and ancillary staff. That's not counting the private sector jobs to follow.

Stover also said the university would likely purchase land from Manatee County and some private parcel owners to accommodate new buildings, but he declined to speculate on estimates. The university now sits on about 28 acres just north of University Parkway along U.S. 41.

Officials see the biggest impact being the inflated student population, which should also heighten local spending tied to parent visitations, orientations and other student-related events.

That bodes well for Sarasota/Bradenton International Airport, which is poised to benefit from an uptick in student flyers. Increased interest in property at the nearby industrial park also should draw more visitors to SRQ, said airport President and CEO Rick Piccolo.

"It will have a positive impact on the airport," Piccolo said. "A lot of parents will be coming into town and students flying home."

Area homebuilder Carlos Beruff also expects the university improvements to play into the hands of his Long Bar Pointe project -- a development that features 1,600 housing units blanketed over 523 acres just a short drive north of the USF campus.

Part of that blueprint calls for a hotel and convention center, which could see increased occupancy as a result, he said.

"Any significant amount of capital that's invested into an area always has positive economic results," Beruff said. "The question is how much? I fell in love with this area when I was 16 years old. Hopefully some of these students do the same."

Officials had varying levels of confidence in the university's ability to raise the funds needed.

If successful, they say the area will only benefit.

"This is kind of becoming an education corridor down there," said Bob Bartz, president of the Manatee Chamber of Commerce. "The restaurants and retail will help, but the bigger impact will be doubling the number of students."

Josh Salman, Herald business writer, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @JoshSalman.

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