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USF dreams of buying Poynter land for St. Pete growth

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Published:   |   Updated: September 5, 2013 at 06:56 AM

More than nine months ago, the Poynter Institute for Media Studies put on the market at least 4 acres of prime real estate holdings around its downtown St. Petersburg headquarters, and the “For Sale” sign has attracted the eye of at least one powerful prospect: The University of South Florida St. Petersburg.

If USF could scare up the funds for a purchase, a deal would open new space for the St. Petersburg campus, adjacent to Poynter, and the two parties have been talking.

“Obviously, we would love to buy it, but at present we don’t have the resources for it,” said USF St. Petersburg Regional Chancellor Sophia Wisniewska. “We are in conversations with Poynter about different ways that we could protect that property for the future for USF St. Pete, but I can’t say we’ve got anything on the table.”

USF St. Pete is hoping to find a “friend or supporter” to help make the purchase for future use, said Tom Scherberger, director of communications for the school.

Poynter operates an internationally renowned non-profit journalism research and education program, and in the mid 1980s built a distinctive, 36,500-square foot building of wood and glass for its offices and classrooms. Poynter is also the non-profit legal entity that owns the for-profit Tampa Bay Times newspaper — an arrangement created by long-time Times owner Nelson Poynter to protect the paper’s independence.

Besides the building, Poynter also owns several acres of vacant property nearby.

The property sits squarely between two powerful and expanding institutions in Tampa Bay: USF St. Pete to the north and east and Bayfront Medical Center to the north and west.

USF St. Petersburg received a $5 million allocation from the state Legislature in the spring to begin construction on a new business school that would house students now scattered throughout seven different buildings. That structure is slated for a site near the corner of 3rd Street and 7th Avenue S, now home of the “Piano Man” building used for faculty offices and classrooms.

The business school will likely take $20 million more to complete and securing additional funding from the Legislature is a top priority of the university.

Bayfront officials declined to comment on the Poynter property, and officials with Poynter did not return calls seeking comment.

Pinellas County property appraisals put the value of the Poynter building property at $3.35 million and a parcel to the south at $2.35 million, with several other parcels worth somewhat less.

Poynter’s move to place “excess” property on the market triggered a slew of phone calls from both Bayfront and USF, said David Box, president of Box Realty Advisors, which has the property listing. He said neither the Poynter building nor the land underneath are for sale through him or other agents.

A sale, if eventually consummated, would inject some needed cash into Poynter. Officials there have said the Times is no longer able to finance Poynter’s operations in journalism and media education. That’s one reason Poynter recently sought new staff to focus primarily on raising funds from institutional donors.

rmullins@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7919 Twitter: @DailyDeadline

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