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USF gets a hand in office space hunt

St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership has jumped in to help the university acquire the Fountain Inn on campus.

By MELIA BOWIE

© St. Petersburg Times,
published October 31, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- In the midst of revamping its master plan, expanding its programs and efforts to attract more students, officials at University of South Florida's campus here have said their growing pains have pointed out the need for new office space.

With that in mind, longtime negotiations to acquire the Fountain Inn, a privately owned assisted living facility situated at the heart of USF's campus, have begun anew -- this time between the Inn and the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership, a nonprofit economic development group working on behalf of the university in the matter.

Although plans to build new student dorms on campus got under way last month beginning with a feasibility study examining housing options and cost, officials said the Inn would not be used for that purpose. Instead it would provide a home to faculty in need of offices, support staff, student service centers and possibly house grant-sponsored research.

With 30 faculty members plus support staff, "our entire college of education is currently housed in what we call modular office units. Others call them trailers," said Herman Brames, the campus' associate vice president for administration and finance. "All of our faculty (and) our academic units are bursting at the seams."

USF hired 31 new faculty members and up to 15 support staff last fall and will continue to do so as the campus grows. From librarians and advisers to professors and administrative assistants, Brames estimated up to 60 new employees have joined the university in the last two years, making previously adequate facilities too tight.

"It's not a classroom problem but an office space one," said Bill Heller, campus executive officer and vice president of USF in St. Petersburg.

Since 1993, the university has been having conversations with the Fountain Inn about purchasing the building, said Heller, who noted, "the college has never ceased to be in negotiations with them.

"We would like to consider purchasing it and renovating it but we would have to secure state funds," Heller said.

Now, the downtown partnership has stepped in as an interested buyer in hopes of helping USF where officials said the Inn's roughly 47,500 square feet of space would provide some nice leg room for cramped colleagues.

Fountain Inn administrators declined to comment on the issue.

Don Shea, executive vice president of the downtown partnership, declined to talk specifics of the negotiations, but said, "the overall goal is to get it (the Inn) into the hands of the university for it's expansion needs."

Heller said the two groups have worked together before to promote USF's growth here.

"They've always been very involved in our campus development," he said of the St. Petersburg partnership. "I think they would be interested in being a compatible partner but it would be their particular call on how they want to deal with the building and us."

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