LAKEWOOD RANCH -- The University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee inked a contract Friday that will provide its first substantial presence in Lakewood Ranch.
The university is moving its culinary program into space formerly occupied by Viking Culinary Center on Lakewood Ranch Main Street, Vice Chancellor Arthur Guilford confirmed Friday evening.
Some hospitality management courses will also be offered at the Lakewood Ranch site.
USF Sarasota-Manatee's hospitality program -- of which the culinary program is a part -- has an enrollment of 850. The hospitality program will continue to be based at USF's southern Manatee County campus, 8350 N. Tamiami Trail. It is the only hospitality program offered anywhere in the USF system.
The Lakewood Ranch facility will be easier to reach for out-of-county culinary students than the Tamiami Trail campus, Guilford said.
"It brings Lakewood Ranch to a little more global reach, and it is exciting to retain a culinary school on Main Street," said Julia DeCastro, director of leasing and sales for developer Schroeder-Manatee Ranch.
The contract signing, brokered by David Fletcher of Wagner Realty, followed a period of protracted negotiation, DeCastro and Guilford said.
Some minor construction will be necessary for soundproofing purposes at the Viking Culinary building before classes can start in January. Four or five faculty members will be rotated through the Lakewood Ranch facility, teaching as many as 75 students at one time. The soundproofing is necessary to allow two classes to be taught at the same time, Guilford said.
In the past, the USF culinary program has been taught in space leased on the second story of the Publix supermarket on University Parkway, or from Manatee Technical Institute.
"It's a real good move for us because we don't have much presence at Lakewood Ranch," Guilford said.
USF Sarasota-Manatee officials were forced to look off campus for a home for the culinary program, because the Tamiami Trail location doesn't have enough room.
"We felt we would be better able to serve our students by providing them with their own space," Guilford said.
Lakewood Ranch Main Street, with its multitude of restaurants, is a "wonderful place" for a culinary program, he said.
The culinary program will be able to partner with Tommy Klauber of Polo Grill and Fete Ballroom to offer real-world experience.
Cindi Jackson of Soma Intimates, one of the businesses on the street, said the USF addition will be a "great draw."
While it will bring new business to Main Street, it will also offer students valuable lessons in customer service, building a team and planning a menu, Jackson said.
Previously, the only USF academic presence in Lakewood Ranch was provided by some classes offered by the Lifelong Learning Academy.
The culinary program will also offer some programs the public, including food courses and wine tastings, Guilford said.
"We will open up and sell food as well," Guilford said.
Viking Culinary Center opened in 2011, billed as a place where couples and the public could go for entertainment, fun and learning. They would be served dishes under the direction of a skilled chef.
But a year later, the 4,500-square-foot facility abruptly closed.
Owner James Butler was seeking protection to fend off a list of 232 creditors, the Herald previously reported. Butler had invested $1 million in the cooking center, which employed about 30 people, according to Herald archives.
James A, Jones Jr., East Manatee reporter, can be contacted at 941-745-7053, or on Twitter @jajones1.