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