VENICE -- State College of Florida trustees took their first steps Wednesday toward exploring a partnership for developing a regional economic hub, the Design & Economic Acceleration Lab, at Lakewood Ranch.
Those first steps included amending the SCF educational plant five-year survey to add the project, frequently referred to by its acronym, the DEAL.
Also amended were the capital improvement program through the 2015-2016 fiscal year, and the project priority list to add DEAL, at an estimated cost of $22.8 million.
Finally, trustees approved a resolution to seek approval of the bonding of capital improvement fees to fund the design and construction of DEAL.
Plans for DEAL were announced in January at a press conference in the median of University Parkway near its eastern terminus, where the economic hub is proposed on a 10-acre site.
SCF’s partners in DEAL are Gulf Coast Community Foundation and Lakewood Ranch developer Schroeder-Manatee Ranch.
SMR has agreed to reserve more than 300 acres for the project, and college officials see that as enough land to accommodate future growth of SCF.
In fact, the amendments approved Wednesday would delete a third building at the existing Lakewood Ranch campus, measuring 45,000 square feet, in exchange for a new 72,000-square-foot facility proposed at the DEAL site.
While Wednesday’s actions did not lock SCF into developing DEAL, it gives President Lars Hafner the ability to move forward with the exploratory process.
Several of the trustees said they still have questions about the project, and one, Carlos Beruff, said he opposes it.
“I want to be explicit to the public that this is far from a done deal,” Beruff said. “The project doesn’t make sense financially.”
Beruff said he opposes leveraging college fees for the project, and asked how it adds to the mission of a community college.
“It’s a great piece of property, but there are others available at one-third the cost,” Beruff said.
What are SMR and the Gulf Coast Community Foundation bringing to the table? he asked.
Economic development councils in Manatee and Sarasota, who have been proposed as key players in the economic hub, still have not come on board, Beruff said.
Prior to discussion by trustees of the deal, Hafner said he had recently made a presentation to the Manatee Economic Development Council, and has another presentation with the Sarasota EDC next week.
The bond resolution is necessary to nail down a contract on the property to bring to trustees. It’s one step in the process, Hafner said.
Ron Allen, board chairman, said he agreed that if there are alternative sites for DEAL, that trustees should look at them, and that there will be a full, careful discussions of the proposal before taking final action.
“We aren’t going to do anything because of time constraints,” Allen said.
Trustee Joe Miller said the board wants to get “the very best bang for the buck” and to be good stewards of taxpayers’ money.
Trustees are expected to continue the discussion at their May meeting.
Hafner promised to bring the partners in the DEAL project to a future meeting so that trustees can ask them any unanswered questions.
At Wednesday’s meeting, held at SCF’s Venice campus, trustees also gave Hafner a glowing review and approved tearing up his three-year contract, and giving him a five-year extension to Sept. 1, 2016.
Trustees praised Hafner for his energy, creativity, and the many projects he has spearheaded, including the addition of baccalaureate degrees at SCF.
Hafner’s annual salary is $250,336.
The first SCF bachelor’s degree students are scheduled to graduate in May.