How Did A 'Tenth University'

Become A Reality For SWFL?

Key founders share what it took to get a state university authorized, sited, named, permitted and planned on the cusp of the 21st century.

Watch Promo | FGCU at 20: The Beginning

Native Son Sponsored Bill For 'Tenth University'

Growing up in south Fort Myers in the late 1960s-1970s, Keith Arnold recalled a very different scene than the one that surrounds Florida Gulf Coast University today.

Southwest Florida's 'Father of Higher Education'

It’s no coincidence that Florida Gulf Coast University and Florida Southwestern University both have a Howard Hall. The buildings are named after a bulldog of an advocate.

7th Generation Floridian A Key FGCU Founder

In 1991, Charlie Edwards had lunch with Gov. Lawton Chiles to get support for a bill that would establish the state’s tenth university in southwest Florida.

FGCU's Founding President Had Deep History

Roy McTarnaghan may be best remembered as Florida Gulf Coast University’s founding president, but his role started much earlier than the day the doors first opened.

FGCU Land Donor Was Fired Up To Win Deal

When the idea first came to him that the state’s tenth university could be built on Alico, Inc., land, Ben Hill Griffin, III, was thinking in terms of a lucrative real estate deal.

Planner Saw FGCU As Vital To SWFL Growth

From Wayne Daltry's arrival in 1975 to the time talk of bringing a university to came to Southwest Florida in the late 1980s, the population of Lee County had more than doubled.

As an appointee to the Board of Regents in 1993, Audrea Anderson was instrumental in communicating with the Southwest Florida community about the state's intentions for the Tenth University. She explains how the community vision at that time has now become a reality.

How did the Eagle become FGCU's mascot? Why are blue and green the school colors? Founding President Roy McTarnaghan shares the stories behind those choices.

As a founding faculty member and developer of curriculum, Win Everham, Ph.D., considers the story behind the siting of the university campus to be a great lesson for students. "Trying to balance the natural world with perceived needs in a sustainable way is not an easy question," he says. "The siting of the university and the building of the university has been this marvelous microcosm of the things that my students are going to have to do as professionals...and the things that humans will have to do as citizens of the planet for the next hundred years."

David McCormick was dean of Fort Myers' branch campus of University of South Florida during the changeover to Florida Gulf Coast University. "The whole job revolved around growing, expanding the faculty, expanding the student body, expanding the curricular offerings to become the core of Florida Gulf Coast," he explained. 

As a founding faculty member, Charles Lindsey recalls how he was attracted to Florida Gulf Coast University because he thought it "was a great opportunity to go and do some things that you can do with a blank slate." 

A founding faculty member, Nora Demers was attracted to FGCU by its advertised mission "to practice and promote environmental sustainability as well as the emphasis on undergraduate education."

Sponsored by




FGCU: The Beginning

To commemorate the 20th anniversary of Florida Gulf Coast University, WGCU Public Media presents "FGCU: The Beginning." a half-hour television documentary that premieres on Aug. 24 at 8pm.


Visit the FGCU At 20 site


FGCU's Original Intent

As a university designed for the 21st century, FGCU had a core commitment to being different in these areas:

  • No Tenure
  • Distance Learning
  • Community Partnerships
  • Undergraduate Emphasis
  • Flexible Schedules
  • Environmental Emphasis

Official Beginnings

April 25, 1991: Florida Senate votes 35 to 1 to pass a bill authorizing Florida’s tenth university.

April 26, 1991: Florida House of Representatives votes 99 to 5 to finalize the bill authorizing a university in Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry or Lee County.

April 27, 1991: Area leaders express their enthusiasm in a News-Press story, including USF branch campus leaders where 1,200 students attend.

May 3, 1991: Gov. Lawton Chiles signs the bill authorizing a state university in Southwest Florida on the steps of the Lee County Courthouse. The bill provides $1.2 million for initial planning of the university. 

May 4, 1991: The first fundraiser for the new university’s foundation raises $19,000 with a golf tournament organized by Tommy Howard at the Bonita Bay Golf Club.  

'The Matrix' of Site Selection

In May 1991, Gov. Lawton Chiles appointed a nine-member citizens’ advisory committee to help select a university site somewhere in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Glades or Hendry counties. The committee adopted a “no-contact” rule prohibiting direct communication between landowners/agents and the committee members.

The site selection committee set forth these criteria, also known as “the matrix," to be considered in June 1991:

  • 300 buildable acres on 550 acres; preferably 500 buildable acres on 800 acres
  • A rectangular block
  • Land use and zoning should be compatible with local and regional comprehensive plans
  • Near or accessible to services such as fire and police protection, health care, cultural and recreational facilities
  • Near a variety of housing
  • Free from ground & air traffic noise
  • Proximity to airport
  • Expandable
  • Natural elements, such as wetlands, elevation and endangered species
  • Existing and planned road systems to handle traffic generated by university
  • Availability and cost of utilities such as water, sewer, electricity and telephone
  • Previous land use/presence of hazardous waste

Site Offers From Five Counties

By the July 1, 1991, deadline, 21 site proposals were submitted from Lee, Charlotte, Collier, Glades and Hendry counties.

The Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council researched the sites for these technical and environmental factors:

  • endangered species
  • effect of university traffic on existing roads
  • water/sewer services
  • flooding/hurricane vulnerability

'Name That University' Contest

In September 1991, a “Name that University” contest was announced with weekend vacation prizes at regional resorts for five finalists.

Sponsored by the Business Development Corp. of Southwest Florida, the “Name that University” contest received more than 6,000 entries, with hundreds of duplicates and 2,100 unique names.

Winning contest entries:

  • Caloosa State University
  • Florida Gulf University
  • Florida Gulfcoast University
  • Southwest Florida University
  • Sunshine State University

First Logo Sparks Outrage

The News-Press asked for opinions by phone, fax or email back in the days before social media. More than 50 people actually left voicemail messages with their thoughts.

The Incentive Game

Fearing a site might be selected in Charlotte County, Lee County Commissioner Doug St. Cerny proposed a $15 million incentive for the state to choose a site in Lee County.

To get the university built in Fort Myers, the city proposed annexing the Gateway site and offering $10 million over 10 years.

Adventist Health Systems offered to build a teaching hospital next to the university if it were to be built in Charlotte County.

Collier County officials considered sweetening the site proposal from the East Naples Land Company by waiving impact fees and offering other enticements.

Alico vs. Westinghouse

At the final site selection meeting on February 17, 1992, the Westinghouse Corp. offered $3 million for unrestricted use, labs and research programs with Westinghouse professionals along with 600 acres for the Gateway site.

By putting an additional $1 million cash on the table, Ben Hill Griffin, III, CEO of Alico Inc., upped his original offer of 800 acres, $1.2 million for two endowed chairs and free sewer and water. He also added another 215 acres for the university's foundation in 1994.

First To Face Envrionmental Scrutiny

In April 1993, Roy McTarnaghan became the founding president of FGCU, when he was selected as the top candidate over two female finalists -- Linda Bunnell Jones, a vice chancellor with Minnesota's university system, and Sarah Pappas, chief of UCF's Daytona Beach branch. Since the last state university built in the Sunshine State was University of North Florida in 1972 -- McTarnaghan had to deal with new layers of environmental permitting.

As vice chancellor for academic affairs for Florida’s state university system since 1975, McTarnaghan was involved in developing the concept for the tenth university since it had first come up in the late 1980s. His knowledge of the state system was a major factor in his selection as so that he could succeed in opening the university by August 1997.

County and water management permits for FGCU were held up by two months in early 1995 due to a suit filed by the Responsible Growth Management Coalition. Permits were also delayed due to an endangered species issue with the Florida panther. A committee led by Rep. Keith Arnold was created to hold public hearings and monitor development of FGCU by a settlement agreement.

A Mitigating Factor

The tracking of a collared Florida panther, an endangered species, on the Alico site several years before it was selected as the university site held up permits.

To mitigate the panther tracking issue with U.S. Fish & Wildlife, Lee County paid $1.7 million to purchase 560 acres east of the university to be preserved as habitat, connecting to a wildlife corridor.

Environmental Commitment

FGCU was the first university in Florida to require all students to take a course on environmental sustainability.