Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

New College approves airport land purchase agreement

With regulatory hurdles remaining, closing the deal on the 31 acres New College rents from SRQ airport remains months away.

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
  • Sarasota
  • News
  • Share

Although a number of regulatory and bureaucratic hurdles remain to be cleared, New College of Florida took a significant step toward the purchase of 31 acres of land it has leased for 67 years from the Sarasota-Manatee Airport Authority.

During its Feb. 22 meeting, the New College Board of Trustees voted unanimously to approve a sales contract with the SMAA in the amount of $11.5 million for land located between Airport Circle and U.S. 41, commonly referred to as the East Campus. The trustees in December approved a purchase agreement with the airport.

Although discussions between Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport President and CEO Rick Piccolo and New College President Richard Corcoran began last year, Piccolo had approached the school multiple times since 2016 regarding disposition of the land. The airport doesn’t need it, he told prior New College presidents Donal O’Shea and Patricia Okker, but when the lease expires in 2056 it will be required by the Federal Aviation Administration to charge fair market value going forward. 

Instead, he proposed New College acquire the property now at current market value to ensure the school’s longevity. The airport, which receives no tax dollars, would use the proceeds to help fund future expansion projects such as new concourses and permanent parking.

In 1957, the college and the airport entered into a 50-year lease on the land, at the time for a shopping area to be built, at $1,300 per month. Terms included no increase in rent with a 50-year option to extend. In 1966, the lease was amended to allow, among other things, the I.M. Pei college housing to be built on the site. That amendment stipulated a base rent of $13,500 per year with a consumer price index adjustment every five years. Given that the base rent was $13,500, the rental increases now bring it to $92,000 per year after a nearly 60-year period.

Piccolo estimates that could jump to as much as $20 million per year when the lease expires in 2056. 

Or, New College could buy it then — for perhaps as much as $200 million. Either way, Piccolo warned, New College will not be able to afford whatever amount the airport would be required to charge.

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.

“The airport is pleased that New College Board of Trustees approved the proposed agreement, and this is the first step in the joint effort to ensure that the New College and the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport can coexist for many more decades, just as we have for over 60 years already,” Piccolo said. "Our joint efforts have been done with great transparency and with diligent attention to all required federal and state requirements.”

The agreement stipulates that the airport will retain ownership of a 3.9-acre parcel north of General Spaatz Boulevard, which was not developed by New College.

Trustee Amy Reid referenced a news report regarding a “whistleblower” from within the airport suggesting the $11.5 million price of the land was too generous to New College, and as a result the FAA may reject the deal. That source is John Schussler, who retired as the airport’s properties director in 2018.

“Is that a possibility here?” she asked.

“As an attorney for New College, I love the fact that we're getting a well-negotiated deal, so that doesn't bother me,” said General Counsel Bill Galvano. “But to your point, independent agencies — federal and state — are reviewing this agreement.”

Schussler has insisted that any land transfer to New College would not be in the best interest of the airport, and that someday it will need the property as the airport continues to grow. In response, Piccolo last year told the Observer that the airport has plenty of room to grow both its terminal and passenger service areas and has no need for the New College site.

SRQ's long-range master plan does not include land currently leased to New College.
Courtesy image

Still, Galvano indicated that until the FAA signs off, any celebration would be premature.

“I suspect the FAA’s interest is in flight patterns and safety around the airport, but do they have the ability to approve the sale price of land that's owned by a special taxing district in Florida?” asked Board of Trustees Vice Chair Ron Christaldi.

“I've not looked at their complete jurisdiction but I would assume, as the federal regulatory body of airports, that they are going to look at all aspects of it before the airport director can go to his board and say this agreement should be approved,” Galvano replied.

In November 2023, Piccolo said the airport and FAA officials had laid some groundwork for a possible sale via previous discussions, and that the agency’s primary interest is whether the site would be needed for aeronautical purposes. The SRQ 2040 master plan, he told the Observer in December, shows that none of the New College land is needed.

“In my short time here what has been done at the airport in the leadership has been nothing shy of fantastic, and conversations have taken place with the FAA and other people for years and years,” said Corcoran. “Before we even got close there were loose discussions about what pieces could be acquired, and those conversations are ongoing on the airport's part, just like our own conversations are ongoing with the legislative component.”

Corcoran's statement was in reference to the lone political hurdle. The Florida legislature will not only have to approve the purchase, but allocate the funds as well.



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.

Latest News