The news, however, spread quickly throughout Collier County. Paul Marinelli, president of Barron Collier Cos., which owns about 90,000 acres in the area, contacted Monaghan and offered to donate 750 acres eight miles south of Immokalee for the university.
Monaghan accepted and agreed to partner with the company 50/50 to build a self-contained town, also named Ave Maria, that would support the university.
"But for the partnership with Barron Collier Cos. we would never have considered this location at all," says Nicholas Healy, Ave Maria University's president.
Marinelli, meanwhile, was also at work with landowners in the area to create a new growth management plan for the more than 200,000 acres of rural land there, including the property slated for Ave Maria. The plan still has to be approved by various state and federal agencies, which may take two years or more, leaving Ave Maria's future in limbo. But Marinelli doesn't seem worried.
"We are going to work concurrently on our plans," for Ave Maria, Marinelli says, explaining that he doesn't expect too many objections from the surrounding towns.
In fact, Collier economic development leaders say that the people of Immokalee, with a population of just under 20,000, more than half of them migrant workers, are excited about the prospects of new opportunities.
Still, some have their doubts. Nancy Payton, the southwest Florida field representative for the Florida Wildlife Federation, doesn't think the university and town will bring a middle class to Immokalee as some hope.
"Immokalee is (Ave Maria's) labor pool," she says. "Folks will be mowing the lawn and washing the dishes."
But Healy says that the university is committed to being charitable and plans to encourage students to perform community service, including teaching local residents to read. He points out that the university will not only bring with it a new job base, but also art, music and culture.
Plans call for Ave Maria College to open a branch in Naples later this year, with the move complete by 2006. Healy says the university hopes to expand eventually from 650 students to about 5,000. One day, Healy says, the university hopes to be known as "the Notre Dame of the Southeast."
Ave Maria University
Naples campus: Plans call for the university to move to 750 acres. The campus will include an 18-hole golf course and a university plaza.
Size: The school hopes to expand from 650 students in 2006 to about 5,000 students in 20 to 30 years.
IN THE NEWS
Brooksville -- E.D. "Sonny" Vergara resigned after five years as executive director of the Southwest Florida Water Management District. Vergara is credited with finding a solution to Tampa Bay's contentious water wars and helping to integrate computer software to enhance growth management efforts. Vergara, 60, says he is going to work in the private sector.
Clearwater -- St. Petersburg College in Clearwater will build a $17.5-million project called the Epicenter that will include a 132,000-sq.-ft. administration building and a 46,000-sq.-ft. service building. The effort is a partnership between the college and Pinellas County government that will also include a technology and business center.
Immokalee -- Some 30 to 40 home buyers in Golden Gate Estates, a neighborhood just north of Immokalee, may lose their investments because the builder they signed contracts with, SRL Associates Properties, has filed for Chapter 7 liquidation. Subcontractors were so angry at SRL for non-payment that they tore out toilets, sinks and other amenities they had installed.
Sarasota -- The Department of Agriculture is introducing South American phorid flies in Sarasota as part of a University of Florida researcher's plan to eradicate fire ants. Professor Sanford Porter says phorid flies may be the only way to get rid of the ants. The flies inject their larvae into an ant's eggs. When the eggs hatch, a maggot finds its way to the ant's head, where it releases a chemical that dissolves the membranes holding the ant's body together. If the experiment works, the USDA will release the flies all over the Southeast.
Sarasota has hired an economic development specialist to help revitalize the financially struggling neighborhood of Newtown. Vivian M. Fehr wants to offer Sarasota businesses state loans of $100,000 to move to Newtown, create a merchants association and provide entrepreneurial training. Fehr is a real estate agent who worked in economic development for several years in Milwaukee before moving to Sarasota seven years ago.
Tampa -- Construction on the $350-million Brandon Parkway, an elevated nine-mile bridge that will connect Brandon with downtown Tampa, is under way. Traffic on the bridge will run one way into Tampa in the mornings and reverse back to Brandon in the evenings. Construction is expected to be complete in 2005.
Bank of America plans to consolidate its operations into the Bank of America building in Tampa, moving 250 employees now working at two high-rises downtown.
The Tampa Tribune will pay about $20 million to extend its contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The 10-year sponsorship agreement gives the newspaper exclusive rights to sell the Tribune at Bucs home games, additional stadium signage and the right to participate in other Bucs marketing efforts.
CASINO BOAT GETS OK
ST. PETERSBURG -- The City Council unanimously approved Cayman Islands-based Titan Cruise Lines' plan to bring a casino boat to the Port of St. Petersburg in March. Titan plans two daily gambling cruises into international waters. City officials estimate the cruises will generate $800,000 a year for the city.
IN THE NEWS
TAMPA -- The University of South Florida has stayed in the headlines recently: In December, the school's board of trustees awarded President Judy Genshaft a 37% pay raise, bringing her annual salary to $325,000. Her five-year contract also included tuition to a state university for her two children and $2,500 in financial advice annually.
Meanwhile, a federal judge refused to rule on USF's question about whether firing controversial Palestinian professor Sami Al-Arian would violate his constitutional right to free speech. The university put Al-Arian on paid leave after he appeared on Fox's The O'Reilly Factor shortly after Sept. 11, where the host alleged Al-Arian had ties with terrorists.