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New College agrees to purchase 31 acres from SRQ airport

The East Campus sits on land it leases from Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport. The lease is set to expire in 2056.

A conceptual rendering by Sweet Sparkman Architecture and Interiors of Sarasota shows a reimagined New College East Campus on land the college plans to acquire from Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport.
A conceptual rendering by Sweet Sparkman Architecture and Interiors of Sarasota shows a reimagined New College East Campus on land the college plans to acquire from Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport.
Courtesy image
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New College of Florida has taken its first steps to acquire the land beneath its East Campus to ensure its long-term future.

With talks circling the purchase of land for several years, on Monday the college’s Board of Trustees began its initial descent to land the acquisition of 30.9 of the 34.8 acres it leases from the Sarasota-Manatee Airport Authority. 

The trustees unanimously approved the purchase agreement at a price of $11.5 million.

In 1957, the school and the airport entered into a century-long lease on the land. 

Per Federal Aviation Administration requirements, once that lease expires in 2056, New College would be required to lease the land or acquire the property, either one at fair market value. Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport President and CEO Rick Piccolo has been warning college administration since 2016 that those costs would be unaffordable in another 32 years.

Piccolo estimates those costs could be as high as $20 million per year to lease, or up to $200 million to purchase the land. That is if the future leadership of the airport were inclined to do either.

“(The lease) is set to expire in 2056, and with the expiration, the property as well as all the improvements on the property would revert to the airport,” New College General Counsel Bill Galvano told the trustees during Monday’s meeting. “We have reached initial terms to go into a purchase and sale agreement for approval by this board and approval by the board of the Sarasota Manatee Airport Authority. These are two very similarly situated parties both looking out for Sarasota, both looking out for the college and both looking out for the airport.”

The land bordered is red is land New College has agreed to purchase from Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport. The site in pink north of General Spaatz Boulevard will be retained by the airport.

In communications with past New College presidents Donal O’Shea and Patricia Okker, and most recently current President Richard Corcoran, Piccolo suggested acquiring pieces of the property gradually over time. Corcoran and the Board of Trustees, though, instead opted to acquire the land in one purchase. 

The agreement must now be approved by the Airport Authority Board of Directors and the sale of the land by the FAA. Piccolo said the airport has previously discussed outlines of a possible agreement with FAA officials.

“I have tried for many years to warn the college about what was on the horizon if this issue wasn't addressed,” Piccolo told the trustees. “One of the key components of getting this approved is this land was a gift to the airport by the federal government, and so the FAA has some say in this and they have to make sure that none of the land that we are going to put up for sale is needed for aeronautical purposes. 

“We have a master plan that goes out to 2040 that shows none of that land was needed, and we understand the importance of the college and the history here.”

The acquisition plan comes at a time when New College is embarking on developing transformation plans for the East Campus. Just prior to taking up the land purchase matter, trustees saw a conceptual presentation for the site that included a multi-purpose field, track and field facilities and grandstands, a parking structure, baseball stadium, softball stadium and more. 

Purchasing the land clears a critical hurdle to initiate strategic redevelopment initiatives.

“Securing New College’s future by resolving the leases and acquiring this land has been a top priority since I arrived in February,” said Corcoran in a news release. “SRQ is a great neighbor, and the deal we’ve set in motion will benefit both organizations, which in turn elevates our entire region.”

As for the airport, it will receive $11.5 million to help fund its master plan, which ultimately includes a parking structure on the current short-term lot and more surface parking. It will retain nearly 4 acres north of General Spaatz Parkway that are critical to maintaining aviation operations.

“We get back 3.88 acres at no cost to the airport. It is already our land, but it was tied up for 32 more years under the existing lease,” Piccolo told the Observer. “That acreage is worth almost $1.5 million at these agreed prices. We also get permanent easements on land already owned by New College that we had no control over. Educational facilities are exempted from local permitting rules by state law so we would have no way to prevent development of New College that would have resulted in either the shortening or closure of our crosswind runway.”

Once approved by the Airport Authority, New College will enter into a 90-day inspection and survey period during which the actual acreage will be calculated and the final price set based on the cost per acre of the purchase agreement. That comes to just more than $372,000 per acre. Both parties expect the purchase to close in early 2024.

“This price is a very fair, very good price for New College and provides stability for us going forward,” said Galvano.

“It provides for the long-term existence of New College and the ability to improve the facilities on the east side of U.S. 41,” Piccolo told the Observer. “It pays fair market value to the airport for the land and that revenue will be used to further improve facilities at the airport, and it provides protection from development of the lands in the runway protection zone of Runway 4 which could have impacted the future use of the runway.”



Andrew Warfield

Andrew Warfield is the Sarasota Observer city reporter. He is a four-decade veteran of print media. A Florida native, he has spent most of his career in the Carolinas as a writer and editor, nearly a decade as co-founder and editor of a community newspaper in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina.

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