UF's push for pre-eminence ahead of schedule

By Jeff Schweers l The Gainesville Sun 

Eight months in, the University of Florida's pre-eminence initiative is already ahead of schedule, Tom Mitchell, vice president of development for the university, told a group of university trustees Thursday.

The UF Foundation has raised $236 million in commitments and endowed 10 new chairs, Mitchell told the Committee on External Relations of the board of trustees. And the foundation has raised $64 million in private money for new construction projects around the campus, including $21 million toward the $50 million O'Connell Center renovation project.

President Bernie Machen had pledged to raise $75 million in private donations to match the amount the Legislature has earmarked for the university over the next five years for being the state's pre-eminent university by meeting all 12 of the criteria established by statute in 2013.

The combined $150 million is targeted for hiring 75 to 100 new senior faculty in areas where UF has already achieved national recognition and could be in the top 10 with an extra push. The UF Foundation pledged to raise an additional $800 million over three years to support the pre-eminence drive.

"Several programs across campus are right on the cusp of pre-eminence," Mitchell said. This additional funding drive will make sure that they have what they need to achieve that, he said.

In 2013, the university had 393 endowed chairs. "Could we become an institution with over 500 endowed chairs?" Mitchell asked. The foundation tested that idea with the faculty and got a resoundingly positive response, he said.

Those donations have helped to create 10 newly endowed chairs, Mitchell told the committee — chairs that are waiting for the hiring process to catch up to fill.

A recent $5 million donation from UF alumnus and private investment banker Andrew Banks will help create five chairs at the discretion of the president and provost across the campus. "That is going to make a transitional gift across campus," Mitchell said.

The fundraising efforts also are filling the coffers of the capital improvement projects — $64 million committed of the $154 million needed to complete construction of a new chemistry building, a new engineering building, a renovated O'Connell Center, Heavener Hall, a renovated Reitz Union, a new medical education building and a children's hospital.

Committee chair Carolyn Roberts asked when construction will begin on the O'Connell Center. Mitchell said the university has $21 million of the $45 million in private money needed for that project, and construction could start a year from now.


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Nick Banks

Nick created Front Street Commercial Real Estate Group in 2002 and spent the first eight years developing and acquiring office and retail projects in South Florida as well as North Central Florida. In 2010 the focus of the firm was shifted to primarily serve third party clients and perform brokerage, property management and mortgage banking functions. Nick has personally developed and acquired nearly 200,000 square feet of office and retail properties in markets throughout Florida. Prior to founding Front Street, Nick was the Director of Finance and Dispositions for Stiles Corporation in Fort Lauderdale where he financed and sold over $500 million in commercial real estate. Before joining Stiles, Nick was an Associate Director at GE Capital Real Estate where he sourced over $200 million in financing throughout Florida. Nick is a graduate of the University of Florida with a degree in Finance and a concentration in Real Estate. He serves as a board member and current vice-chair for the United Way of North Central Florida where he also chairs the Development Committee. Nick is actively involved with the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce where he serves as a board member and committee member for the Council for Economic Outreach. He is also a recent graduate of Leadership Gainesville which is a year long leadership program hosted by the Chamber. He is a member of Grace United Methodist Church where he has served as finance chair and as a member of the leadership council. Nick serves as an advisory board member of the University of Florida Bergstrom Center for Real Estate Studies. Nick was recently named chair of the Gainesville committee for the North Florida chapter of Urban Land Institute (ULI). He is a licensed real estate broker in the State of Florida and is a long time member of the International Council of Shopping Centers.

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