Pensacola, Florida
Thursday December 14th 2017

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UWF Campus Adds To Downtown Transformation

By Rick Outzen

In 2014, TIP Strategies consultant John Karras posted on a website his recommendations for revitalizing a downtown—“12 Strategies That Will Transform Your City’s Downtown.”

The city of Pensacola has implemented many of his strategies. The city has converted the one-way streets of Palafox, Spring and Baylen into two-way streets. The Downtown Improvement Board has hosted monthly Gallery Nights to showcase downtown merchants, music and food. The Emerald Coast Utility Authority made its Main Street Plant site available for private sector development.

However, one strategy has alluded the city—open a downtown satellite campus of a local university.

“Downtown campuses can be a win-win for universities and for a city’s downtown,” Karras wrote. “Opening a downtown satellite campus can be a great option to expand the university’s reach. And the creation of a downtown university campus can do wonders for a city’s downtown.”

Karras pointed out that the downtown campus of Arizona State University has been a catalyst for Phoenix. The University of Texas-San Antonio’s downtown campus is a major asset for that city. Smaller, southern cities, such as Charleston, S.C. and Savannah, Ga., have colleges in their downtowns.

Creating a stronger downtown presence for the University of West Florida was an integral component of the Community Maritime Park proposal presented in January 2005. Unfortunately, the state’s budget woes derailed the construction of a UWF conference center and classrooms downtown.

However, Quint Studer, founder of Studer Group, and UWF President Dr. Judy Bense never gave up on the idea. Patiently they waited.

On July 2, the wait was over. At a press conference held at the Voices of Pensacola museum, UWF and Quint and Rishy Studer announced their partnership to develop the Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of West Florida College of Business.

Dr. Bense told the audience that the most important reason she took the helm of the university was to better connect the University of West Florida with the community.

“It was disconnected, and that was bad for the university and bad for the community,” she said. “That has been my goal in everything that I have done, internally, externally, business-wise, athletic-wise, everything because like our chairman Lewis Bear says, ‘You can’t have a great city without a great university. You can’t have a great university without the city.’”

Quint Studer, flanked by his wife Rishy and granddaughter Katie Grace Kennedy, was clearly happy about the partnership.

He said, “This is probably the most excited I’ve been about any work-related project I’ve ever been involved in, and I’ve been very excited about a lot of projects in my life.”

Later, Dr. Brendan Kelly, UWF’s vice president of University Advancement, explained on News Talk 1370 WCOA’s “Pensacola Speaks” why the university chose to make entrepreneurship the focus of the downtown campus.

“Entrepreneurship is becoming a key piece for higher education,” he said. “We have to do a more robust job of teaching students to think about economic development and their educations in different terms.”

Kelly said the old adage of somebody going to college so that they can start a career or get a job doesn’t apply to the 21st century. Colleges need to teach their students to think creatively about opportunity.

“Entrepreneurial thinking from our perspective is not something that is left only to a business college, but it’s something that’s infused into the course of study in every disciple,” Kelly said.

He said partnering with the Studers was perfect in this venture to create opportunities and more vessels for students to engage in entrepreneurial thinking. Kelly said Quint and Rishy Studer, along with other creative, innovative, inventive entrepreneurs, have contributed to the renaissance of Pensacola.

He said, “When you put a university that’s committed to that way of thinking with all of these individuals that are building out opportunity in industry, it creates a synergy that leaves us the opportunity to start a center like this that brings all those assets and individuals together.”

The Studers will build the facility to house the Center For Entrepreneurship. The building and conference center are parts of the $20-million investment they have proposed for parcels 3, 6 and 9 at the Maritime Park. Studer will also contribute $1 million to fund the center.

The Center will house the Studer Community Institute, Florida Small Business Development Center and UWF Innovation Institute. The Center for Research in Economic Opportunity, headed by Dr. Rick Harper, will be affiliated with the center, as well as the Greater Pensacola Entrepreneur Fund, which Quint and Rishy Studer founded.

Kelly said, “When you put all of those assets, affiliate them with the center, and add the education assets of the College of Business, we can support people from the day they think about starting a business all the way to when they are growing it and hopefully making some decisions about vast expansion.”

He added that the UWF College of Business is developing undergraduate and graduate certificate programs in entrepreneurship and small business. The school will launch an MBA with an emphasis on entrepreneurship this fall.

Dr. Bense said the center will be a venue for the university to help the approximately 35,000 UWF alumni that live in Northwest Florida.

“One of the things that pleases me the most is when we produce graduates, what this will do is help them get started, develop industry, create jobs, help them create a business,” she said. “We get them in the door, get them graduated, and then give them the opportunity to succeed right here. “

Studer will serve as the center’s first Entrepreneur-in-Residence. His role will be to mobilize a professional network of entrepreneurs to mentor and interact with students in seminars, workshops and classes. At the press conference, Studer said he had already contacted several local entrepreneurs.

“I talked to Jerry Pate two days ago, who has taken a golf career and built tremendous company, and asked him if he’d like to be involved in teaching and doing workshops at the Entrepreneur Center,” Studer said. “He said, ‘Absolutely.’ I talked to Ken Ford last night, and I asked him if he’d like to be involved in the Center for Entrepreneurship and be involved in seminars and workshops, and he said, ‘Absolutely.’ I talked to Kirk Ball, who really built Fisher Brown, and asked him if he’d like to be involved, and he said, ‘Absolutely.’”

Studer said that he would like to create an entrepreneur weekend that would coincide with an Argos’ football game at the Maritime Park stadium.

“People can come in and get a taste of not only University of West Florida, but they can also get a taste of the city of Pensacola and why they should either move their business here, grow their business here, or minimally write a check to this enterprise,” he said.

“We want to be the next Austin, but just a little bit better,” Studer said. “We don’t want to duplicate Austin. We want to surpass Austin as a friendly place to come and do business.”