Southwest Florida Roundup
Kirkland Ranch Academy of Innovation opens in Pasco County
High Tech High
Built on what used to be a Pasco County cow pasture, the $70-million Kirkland Ranch Academy of Innovation opened this school year, ushering in a new era of what used to be called a technical high school. Kirkland’s curriculum still features all the traditional trades, such as automotive maintenance and welding, but it also includes classes in cybersecurity, computer science, biomedical sciences, digital media, engineering and robotics.
The high school opened with 550 students in grades nine and 10, with grades 11 and 12 planned, bringing Kirkland’s eventual enrollment to about 1,000. Students will graduate with industry certifications, giving them access to jobs right away, or they can seek a college degree.
“The campus has been designed with collaboration and entrepreneurship in mind,” says Dee Dee Johnson, the school’s principal. “That’s the culture we’re creating. Our students will graduate with real-world skills that will serve them well in college and in their careers. When you look at the exciting new kinds of industry coming to Pasco and the Tampa Bay region, there will be a huge need for young talent with the right skillset. That’s what Kirkland Ranch Academy of Innovation is all about.”
- Neil Anderson is the new executive director of Wonder Gardens in Bonita Springs. Anderson had been director of the New Zoo & Adventure Park in Green Bay, Wisc. Wonder Gardens, home to rescued and non-releasable birds and reptiles, as well as tropical trees and gardens, was founded in 1936 as the Reptile Gardens roadside attraction located off Tamiami Trail.
- Pasco County Commissioners approved Columnar Developers plans for Pasco Town Center, a 965-acre development with office, retail, hotel and residential components. The project, planned for the southeast corner of I-75 and S.R. 52, is projected to open by 2028.
- The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges gave final approval for Hillsborough Community College to award baccalaureate degrees. As a result, HCC will enroll its first class this fall of students seeking a bachelor’s in nursing. “This approval represents a transformational moment in HCC’s 54-year history,” says Ken Atwater, the college’s president.
- Florida SouthWestern State College has established the Rist Cyber Institute to expand the college’s cybersecurity programs. The institute is funded by $2.5 million from Brian and Kim Rist and the Rist Family Foundation.
- England-based Clarify, a sales and marketing firm, has opened an office in Tampa, where it plans to hire 25 by next summer.
- As part of its work to help restore Florida’s coral reefs, the Florida Aquarium has relocated 560 coral specimens off of Long Key. The coral, including boulder brain, grooved brain, symmetrical brain and spiny flower, had been raised at the Florida Aquarium’s Center for Conservation in Apollo Beach.
- ABC Supply has started construction on a 60,000-sq.-ft. distribution warehouse near the Punta Gorda Airport in Charlotte County. Based in Wisconsin, ABC Supply focuses on roofing materials and other building supplies.
- Naples-based Hoffmann Family of Companies has purchased Florida Media Group, which publishes nine weekly newspapers with a combined circulation of more than 220,000. The newspapers include the Florida Weekly — which has editions in Fort Myers, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, Palm Beach County and Key West — as well as the Ave Maria Sun, the Babcock Ranch Telegraph and the Wellen Park Journal. The sales price was not disclosed.
- Construction is underway on the Canopy at West River, a mixedincome development with 196 apartments near downtown Tampa. The project, being developed by the Tampa Housing Authority and the Related Urban Development Group, is scheduled to be completed by October 2023.
- The Kolter Group started construction on a condo tower called Arthouse in St. Petersburg. The 42-story building will have 244 residences and an art gallery.
- Construction on a 22-unit condominium with ground-floor retail is slated to begin this year in Sarasota’s Rosemary District neighborhood. Called Villa Ballada, the five-story development is expected to be completed by 2024.
Back to the Drawing Board
The future of St. Petersburg’s 86-acre Tropicana Field site remains in limbo after Mayor Ken Welch rejected redevelopment plans from two developers — Miami-based Midtown Development and California-based Sugar Hill — that had been deemed finalists by previous Mayor Rick Kriseman.
Welch says he hopes to pick another plan by the end of this year. He says he wants the proposals to include more housing options for lower income people and less office space, given a pandemic-induced shift toward more people working from home.
Also in limbo is the future of the Tampa Bay Rays, who have played home games at Tropicana Field since 1998. The team’s lease to play at the city-owned stadium expires after the 2027 season, and it’s unclear if the team will stay in St. Petersburg or move to Tampa or elsewhere. Either way, Welch is soliciting plans flexible enough to include a stadium if the Rays stay.