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Campus development update

By Will Isern

A lot has happened in the last month regarding the University of West Florida’s plans for massive development on its campus.

Argonaut Village, the $40 million centerpiece of the university’s  master plan, is to be a sprawling residential and student-life project built in the Baars-Firestone wildlife sanctuary on the north side of campus.

The “Pensacola News Journal” has reported extensively on all that has happened with the project in the last few weeks. We’ve provided links to the relevant articles below, but wanted also to give readers recap of what’s been happening.

•    In late June, the new campus plans had to be put on hold in light of a weakening bond market. The university, through Vieste LLC, its choice for lead project developer, had entered into a complex bond agreement with the cities of Gulf Breeze and Century by which it could sell municipal bonds to raise money for the development. When bond prices fell below a certain level, the agency the university and the two cities organized their agreement through, Capital Trust Agency, backed out of the deal.

•    In the wake of the financing issue, the “News Journal” reported on June 29 that plans for the university to construct a hotel on campus were scrapped. Questions were raised about Vieste’s ability to pull off the project at all. The “News Journal”  reported that no one at the university had any prior experience with the company.

•    So, in early July, the university looked poised to switch development partners. But there was some confusion. By July 6 it seemed the Louisiana non-profit Provident Resources Group would take the helm. Ed Gray, executive director of the Capital Trust Agency, Rob Johnson of the “News-Journal” reported, said -5 that Vieste was “no longer the owner of this project.” But that same day the university released a statement saying “Vieste is still the developer of the project,” and was “exploring a tax-exempt structure.”
•    Finally, on July 11,  Capital Trust Agency placed an ad in the “News Journal” naming Provident Resources Group as the project’s developer.

•    Despite the confusion, President Judy Bense was quoted by the “News Journal” on July 6 as saying that she believes the project will meet its August 2014 deadline.

•    Amid the wrangling surrounding the Argonaut Village project, the university, also on July 11, announced that Pennsylvania-based Balfour Beatty Campus Solutions had been chosen as the developer for the University Park and Northwest Village projects. The University Park project is to include a new student union and the proposed football stadium. Northwest Village is to be a living community on the west side of campus for people over the age of 55.

•    Initial bond issue: http://www.pnj.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2013306280020
•    Search for new developer: http://www.pnj.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2013306300031
•    Provident Resources Group: http://www.pnj.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2013307070026
•    Northwest Village and University Park: http://www.pnj.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2013307120012

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