New College gets land donation over USF Sarasota-Manatee
Aeriel view of the Crosley Estate property. Image obtained through Manatee County GIS.

New College gets land donation over USF Sarasota-Manatee

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The New College Board of Trustees (BOT has approved a nine-acre land donation from Manatee County, following the Manatee County Commission’s vote in October 2023 to give the land parcel to New College of Florida. The parcel was originally promised in 2020 to the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee (USFSM), which had planned to build student housing and an educational facility.  

“We were particularly surprised by the County’s decision to change direction. . . as the County did not inform us, rather we learned about it when it appeared as an agenda item for a recent New College Board of Trustees meeting,” USF spokesperson Kevin Watler told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune

The BOT initially voted to authorize President Richard Corcoran to start talks about securing the Crosley Estate on Oct. 3, 2023. During the Oct. 3 BOT meeting, General Counsel Bill Galvano clarified that under the 2020 contract, there were 90 days for Manatee County and USF to enter an ultimate compatibility contract. He explained that USF did not, and that subsequently, Manatee County voted to terminate their previous discussions with USF.

Corcoran sat down with a Catalyst reporter to discuss the land donation.  He explained that acquiring the land was not always part of the plan regarding New College’s expansion.

“No, I didn’t know anything about it,” Corcoran said “I don’t think anybody did. It was Manatee County. What they did with us, they did with USF. I don’t want to say anything negative, but three and a half years later, I think Manatee County was a little frustrated that USF was not taking a gift of $20-million worth of property, give-or-take, for free.”

“I think they [USF] wanted an easement, they wanted a covenant, they wanted all these legal machinations. Word came on the radar Manatee was done negotiating with USF . . . that’s when we heard, if USF didn’t want it, did we want it? We said absolutely, we’ll take it.”

Two excerpts from the original 2020 donation agreement between USF and Manatee County.

The donation to New College was officially executed by Manatee County on Feb. 13 at the monthly Manatee County Commission meeting, with Corcoran in attendance.

“We’re going through our Master Plan process right now,” Corcoran stated at the meeting, which is available here. “Right now in the current drafts, we have new dormitories being built out there on the property. Unsolicited architects have sent us amazing renderings. We’re very excited about it.” 

“When I spoke with Senator [and New College Legal Counsel] Bill Galvano about this donation, my one caveat was that the Crosley [estate] would ultimately always remain in Manatee County’s hands and there would be no attempt by New College to annex the Crosley onto your campus. On the record, I want someone to assure me that is the case,” Port Authority Chair Kevin Van Ostenbridge responded to Corcoran. 

“We’ve had a great meeting with Elliot [Falcione], he took us through, we were talking about maybe something where you guys would allow us to maybe have some joint use if there was a benefit,” Corcoran replied.

“We’re great partners,” Ostenbridge stated. “As long as there is never any attempt to move on the ownership of the Crosley.”

“It would have to be something you guys have to initiate, nothing we would ever do,” Corcoran said.

Today, the Crosley Estate is used as a rentable venue, primarily for weddings or general events, with rental prices ranging from $200 to $10,500. Manatee County will continue to operate the property as an event space, separate from New College.

In his discussion with the Catalyst, Corcoran expanded on the possible shared usage between Manatee County and New College. 

“There’s a ton of synergy; our relationship with Manatee County, our relationship with Sarasota County is excellent. They do wedding events and they do events there, but during the day, can we use some of the space for classrooms or something? So now the kids are just literally walking across right down to a classroom. . . I think those are conversations we’d like to have with the county moving forward.” 

 Included in the agreement are conditions that New College construct a control fence and that the Campus Police Department (CPD) will be responsible for removing any students or faculty who may trespass on the Crosley property, as well as allowing event-goers to use New College parking when not in use by the school. The land adjacent to the estate will be built upon, but not the Crosley Estate property itself.

Screenshot of OpenStreetMap with the nine-acre property and Powel Crosley property denoted. Edited by Andy Trinh.

Manatee County Commission Third Vice Chair James Satcher told the board, “We’re very excited for this opportunity; it’s great to be a part of an incredible and important project for the next generation. These are college students. We need places for them to go to learn about our great nation . . . America’s the greatest place on earth. We need places that put that forward. Anything would have to be county-initiated in the future and I think that’s a legitimate point that I just wanted to reiterate from here.”

Documents from the New College Master Plan meeting on Jan. 22 illustrate a section of the land with plans to build student housing, with a proposed addition of a future pool and sand volleyball court. 

The Catalyst asked Corcoran about how students would be prioritized for housing on the new property. “In statute, we have to give prioritization to first and second years, but I think the initial concept would be that as long as we have housing for the first and second years, that would be where we would give the upperclassmen first choice,” Corcoran said.  “You can imagine, in theory, our entire fourth years, third years, and maybe even second years because it’s 600 beds.”

Diagram from the New College Master Plan display boards.

On projected costs, Corcoran continued, “If you go look in Google, things like how much USF dorms cost, they always give you, ‘Okay, a per bed station cost is X.’ So we have an idea, so I would say around $70-100 million would be a likely cost for 600 beds.” 

Corcoran also clarified that development of housing would be paid for through student housing costs combined with a growth in student enrollment. With regards to distance from the main New College campus, Corcoran mentioned the possibility of autonomous electric vehicles to shuttle students to and from the added housing.

A screenshot of USFSM’s Capital Renewal Program Projects map.

Land Parcel Significance

The remaining parcel of land that contains the Powel Crosley Estate—also known as Seagate—is located half a mile from College Hall, past Uplands Boulevard. The Crosley Estate was owned by radio pioneer and Cincinnati Reds owner Powel Crosley Jr., who had the property constructed in 1929 and sold it in 1947 following the death of his wife, Gwendolyn Crosley. According to the Manatee County Land Appraiser, the land is valued around $3,426,563 as of 2023.

Following the split between New College and USFSM in 2001, USFSM set its sights on the Crosley Estate for building a new separate campus. USFSM’s campus, built in 2006, is located on 28 acres of the original Crosley property. During the USFSM campus construction, the presence of  endangered species including Gopher tortoises led to a settlement by which USFSM was required to maintain six acres of land for Gopher tortoise habitat. 

Galvano has told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune that New College would be required to do a diligent inspection survey before building on the land. Corcoran explained to the Catalyst that New College had not run into any environmental problems involving the nine-acre parcel. “Manatee County has had the land forever, so they’ve gone through all of that process as well.”

For those curious to see the property, Manatee County allows anyone to book self-guided tours for 30-45 minutes at a time, and there is also a 360-degree virtual tour website.

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