David Coburn: Investing in Our Community

In my 50 years in Tallahassee, I am impressed by how people in our community embrace our institutions of higher education. FSU, FAMU and TCC help form our community identity and are essential drivers of our local economy. But there is a divisiveness developing in the community.

In September, community leaders voted to approve a $20 million investment in life-safety and deferred maintenance at Doak Campbell Stadium, similar to the $10 million that was invested in Bragg Stadium and the $1 million invested in TCC baseball facilities. The investment in FSU, however, is under attack. The amount of misinformation that is being propagated is alarming, and everyone who supports FSU should be concerned.

The economic impact of FSU is astonishing. FSU enrolls more than 45,000 students and employs about 14,000 faculty and staff members. In fiscal year 2019-2020, FSU generated $1.5 billion of direct revenue/expense that contributed $3 billion of total economic impact and created 35,907 jobs.

In addition, FSU is one of the primary drivers of the local hospitality and tourism industries. Every year, hundreds of thousands of visitors converge in Tallahassee including prospective students and their families, eminent scientists, researchers, artists, and sports fans.

As we seek opportunities to expand our economic base, sports tourism continues to be a bright spot for our local community. Leon County recently made a far-sighted investment in sports infrastructure when it built the Apalachee Regional Park cross-country facility. This investment has been phenomenally successful, as evidenced by the NCAA Cross Country National Championships, which drew thousands of people to Leon County. The facility is projected to draw 35,000 visitors and $10 million in direct spending annually.

Doak Campbell Stadium is a tremendous draw for out-of-town visitors. As the single largest outdoor venue in Tallahassee, it makes sense to invest in the stadium infrastructure given the proven economic success of similar facilities. During a typical football season, out-of-town attendees bring nearly $50 million to Tallahassee in direct spending over seven home games.

By investing in structural and safety upgrades to this 71-year-old structure, we create additional opportunities for community events and tourism. This investment will ensure the venue’s continued viability long into the future and provide an immediate and substantial return on investment for taxpayers.

Unfortunately, some members of our community are sharing misleading and blatantly false information about this project. They are attempting to portray the project as wasteful spending for luxury seating. This is simply not true.

The $20 million is being invested in an FSU Facilities construction project, not a Boosters “fan experience” project. No taxpayer money will be spent on luxury items.

After safety and maintenance issues are addressed, a separate fundraising project will be undertaken by the Seminole Boosters to further upgrade the stadium. This will ensure the functionality of our stadium and its ability to continue to generate events and attract visitors to Tallahassee for years to come.

Critics claim that FSU should raise its own money. We raise a tremendous amount of money every year, most of which is reinvested into the local economy. We are a public university, and we are excellent stewards of the resources that are entrusted to us.

We have many generous donors who financially support programs at FSU. While necessary and critical for progress, private donations are difficult to secure for maintaining facilities.

Similarly, FSU’s endowment dollars are restricted for specific purposes and cannot legally be transferred to other projects.

For the past decade, FSU has been continuously recognized by U.S. News & World Report as the most efficient public university in the nation. That is a testament to our financial stewardship and an assurance that local funding will be used for its maximum benefit.

Thank you to all who support the economic development funding for this project. We are grateful for your vision and support of our efforts to continue to enhance and diversify the excitement and allure of Tallahassee.