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Vanderbilt University Plans Expansion into West Palm Beach with $300 Million Fundraising Effort

Billionaire Steve Ross leads $300 million fundraising to bring Vanderbilt University's new campus to West Palm Beach.

By Athena Xu

4/3, 11:05 EDT

Key Takeaway

  • Wealthy Floridians and developers, led by billionaire Steve Ross, aim to raise $300 million for a new Vanderbilt campus in West Palm Beach.
  • The proposed graduate campus focuses on business and computing, with $100 million already pledged contingent on land acquisition.
  • Local officials support the initiative, recognizing its potential to attract talent and sustain the region's growing population and business sector.

Vanderbilt Eyes West Palm Beach Expansion

Wealthy Florida residents and developers are rallying to support Vanderbilt University's potential expansion into West Palm Beach, with efforts to raise at least $300 million for the construction of a new campus. The initiative, led by billionaire developer Steve Ross, aims to establish a graduate campus for business and computing programs. Ross, who has significantly contributed to the development of downtown West Palm Beach through his company, Related Cos., hosted a reception to discuss the plans. Approximately $100 million has already been pledged, contingent on meeting certain conditions such as securing the necessary land.

Vanderbilt University, founded in 1873, is considering the expansion to cater to the growing demand for higher education in South Florida. The region has seen an influx of wealthy residents and financial firms, yet faces a shortage of elite educational institutions. The proposed campus would occupy vacant public land previously considered by the University of Florida for a similar project. Vanderbilt spokesperson John O’Brien stated the university is "assessing an opportunity" to expand its graduate programs to South Florida.

Community and Leadership Support

The project has garnered interest from local officials, including Palm Beach County Mayor Maria Sachs, who expressed enthusiasm for the proposal. The county, recognizing the need for higher education investment to support its rapidly growing population and business sector, is considering ceding land for the campus. Palm Beach County Commissioner Gregg Weiss highlighted the importance of building a talent pool to sustain the influx of firms and high-earning workers relocating to the area.

Vanderbilt's expansion efforts are supported by notable alumni and business leaders with ties to South Florida. Among them are TPG CEO Jon Winkelried, Charles Schwab, and Michael Bickford, founder of the Carriage House, indicating a strong local network of Vanderbilt affiliates. The university boasts an almost $10 billion endowment and over 1,100 alumni in Palm Beach County and northern Broward County, underscoring its potential impact on the region.

Education as a Catalyst for Growth

The push for Vanderbilt's expansion into West Palm Beach reflects a broader recognition of the critical role education plays in regional development. Cody Crowell, a Vanderbilt alumnus and advocate for the project, emphasized the necessity of investing in education to create a sustainable ecosystem for growth in Florida. The initiative seeks to address the educational needs of the area's affluent and increasingly younger demographic, which has outpaced the capacity of existing elite private schools and universities.

Management Quotes

  • Steve Ross, Billionaire developer:

    "Ross and Related declined to comment on the Vanderbilt effort."

  • Maria Sachs, Mayor of Palm Beach County:

    "Right now, they are courting us, and we’ll see if they are going to dance. I like the idea."

  • John O’Brien, Vanderbilt spokesman:

    "The university is assessing an opportunity to expand business-and-computing graduate programs in South Florida."

  • Gregg Weiss, Palm Beach County commissioner:

    "We have a need for additional investment in higher education. We’re growing fast, and there is a need to have that pool of trained talent and prestige."

  • Cody Crowell, Vanderbilt alumnus and real estate investor with Frisbie Group:

    "People already want to be in West Palm Beach... But we’ve hit this plateau where we need to invest in education and do so in a way where we can create this sustainable ecosystem for growth in our state."