Slow start to Robertson Park
Robertson Park on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024 at 2:51 p.m. Photograph by Naomi Nerlien.

Slow start to Robertson Park

President Richard Corcoran promised to bring several campus improvements to New College in the new year, including making all elevators operational and renovating the exterior of the Pritzker Marine Biology Research Center. The installation of Robertson Park was counted as one such campus improvement. In an email update to students sent on Dec. 21, 2023, Corcoran stated, “This new Robertson Park venue will host live music and food trucks starting in the Spring semester, creating more opportunities to enjoy our Bayfront.” 

Construction was indeed completed by the beginning of the Spring term, and what was once untouched landscape nestled between College Hall and Robertson Hall is now a welcoming outdoor seating area complete with a stage and fire pit. With the intent to provide a space for students, faculty and community members to socialize, Robertson Park officially opened its doors on Jan. 26, 2024.

Email updates have continued into the semester, informing students about  which food trucks will be at the park each day. On February 9, the New College Office of Communications and Marketing told students that from 6-10 p.m. on Feb. 9 and 10 there would be  “…music and a cash bar for beer and wine… Please note there will not be food trucks either night.”

While this cancellation was noted in the  email, it was  contradicted by an Instagram post that same night. Friday evening around 6:30 p.m., the official New College of Florida account posted four static pictures in a carousel format to their feed with the caption, “Have you checked out Robertson Park yet? If not join us tonight from 6 p.m. – 10 p.m., where we will have food, drinks, views, and more!” Though the opportunity is there, students are not taking advantage of it. First-year Caleb Rice told the Catalyst, “People who aren’t students come here more than people who are. I usually see older people walking their dogs.” During this conversation, two students came to the park but left immediately after seeing that the promised food truck, music and cash bar were nowhere to be found. 

The Catalyst contacted the scheduled food truck, Two Guys To Go, and asked why they weren’t able to serve on the night of Feb. 9, 2024. 

“We canceled because it was very dead,” the food truck’s owner, Cansu Atali, replied. “We talked to the food truck there the day before and they said they barely made any money. If we come prepared and we only make $50…basically it wasn’t profitable for us so we canceled. It’s a new place. Maybe later on it will pick up, but now it will make us lose money.”

The Catalyst was also able to speak to Dwayne Stackhouse, owner of Pappa Stack Food Shack, another food truck that frequents the park. He informed The Catalyst that Director of Events Naomi Copeland had directly reached out to him to serve at Robertson Park. 

Asked if he serves a lot of students, Stackhouse replied, “No, community. But students and each housing development – anybody can come.”

The installment of Robertson Park has brought concern for student safety. With alcoholic beverages being sold on campus, some have asked  about the potential impact on students’ security at the park in the evenings. 

“I had heard that some students felt uncomfortable going to Robertson Park because of the alcohol being served and because the events seemed to draw more folks from off campus than students,” Professor of French Language and Literature and Director of Gender Studies Amy Reid stated in an email interview. “So when Communications sent a message advertising that there would be alcohol for sale last weekend, but no food, I wanted to follow up with the administration. I like the idea of the campus being open to the broader community, but we do need to prioritize creating safe and welcoming spaces for our students—most of whom are underage.”

When asked what security measures were being taken to ensure students and property stay safe, Police Captain Kelley Masten told the Catalyst, “Campus Police will continue to routinely patrol campus, which includes Robertson Park, to ensure the safety of students, staff, faculty and our community guests. Officers will continue to patrol the area on foot, golf cart and bike patrol.  We encourage everyone to relax and have fun at Robertson Park. If you need police assistance call CPD at 941-487-4210.”

Robertson Park on Wednesday Feb. 7, 2024 at 8:12 p.m. Photo by Naomi Nerlien.

A Catalyst reporter traveled from the residential side of campus to Robertson Park,then returned again after an hour, but no officers were seen patrolling the area. No officers were encountered at all until the reporter passed the Sudakoff Center, where there was a police car parked at the end of General Dougher Place, facing Z Dorm. 

Executive Director of New Students and Graduate Admissions Bruce Abramson and Alex Muller, both staff members with offices in Robertson Hall by the park, had an optimistic perspective. “The point is to make it a holistic campus. Instead of separating students and faculty we can come together [at Robertson Park],” Abramson stated in a discussion with the Catalyst.

A lofty goal such as this inevitably comes with hiccups that need attention before students, faculty and community members can fully enjoy Robertson Park’s amenities.

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