It did not take long for the loss of Bill Heller as campus executive officer for USF’s St. Petersburg campus to be felt.
Within a week of USF President Judy Genshaft announcement that Heller will step down, the St. Petersburg City Council voted 5-1 to postpone a referendum regarding the long-term lease of part of the Bayfront Center to USF. The postponement of the referendum, scheduled for November, foils USF’s plans to utilize the center as a conference center.
In a meeting originally scheduled to agree upon the wording for a referendum, members of the council cited uncertainty and concern over the absence of Heller as the reason for their change of intent. St. Petersburg Council member Richard Kriseman said Heller’s departure had affected the relationship between the city of St. Petersburg and USF.
“It throws kind of the whole issue up in the air. As a city we don’t know who is going to be in that position,” said Kriseman. “Until these issues are resolved and we have some sort of comfort level with who’s there we’re not in a position to resolve this issue.”
“Bill Heller really was USF-St. Pete’s – he was actively involved in the university and integrating the university in the community,” said Kriseman “We need to see who is going to be leading the St. Pete campus and if their desire and intentions are the same.”
Michael Reich, director for media relations at USF, said he was disappointed about the loss of a potential venue for a conference center but that it was only one of many projects USF was pursuing.
“They were talking about proposing a referendum for putting it on the November ballot for a long-term lease,” said Reich. “It would have expanded opportunity for us, but this was just one among many opportunities.”
The departure of Heller, Reich said, should not affect the relationship between USF and the St. Petersburg council.
“We’re committed to the campus and to providing leadership to that campus,” said Reich. “We have a number of partnerships with the city of St. Pete, and we’ll continue to work with them.”
Reich said USF would act to assuage the concerns of the council.
“We’ll be talking with council members to reassure them of our commitment to the city of St. Petersburg and the partnerships between us,” Reich said.
For Kriseman, the postponement of the referendum did not exclude the possibility of USF acquiring a lease on the Bayfront Center in the future. The council will, however, investigate alternatives for the center.
“What we have done is we’ve said for this year we don’t want to go forward on it. We haven’t ruled it out for next year,” said Kriseman. “What’s important is what best for the city, if that is what is best for the university as well then it’s a win-win situation.”