Landing the Land



Bruce DeLaney helps the UF Foundation acquire property and solve challenges in developing future land use.


By Chris Eversole

When Bruce DeLaney started his job as the first director of real estate for the University of Florida Foundation 30 years ago, he wasn’t sure about his mission.

DeLaney turned to then University of Florida President Robert Marston, who advised him to see his role broadly. “Dr. Marston said, ‘A healthy economy in Alachua County is good for the University of Florida,’” DeLaney recalls. This simple guidance has been DeLaney’s guiding light throughout his career.

As he reflects on his three decades of work and contemplates retirement in the next few years, DeLaney is satisfied that he’s succeeded in following Marston’s instructions.

One measure of that success is that he has helped the UF Foundation acquire more than $200 million of real estate. DeLaney also measures his success by his personal satisfaction from the impact that gifts of property make on UF.

Take the gift of land that the Overstreet family of Polk County made in 1980. The State of Florida bought the property as part of its land preservation program, and proceeds funded spinal cord research in the Department of Neurosurgery.

That funding helped establish UF as a leading university nationally in neuroscience research, leading to creation of the McKnight Brain Institute, located at UF.

“One gift of swamp land that raised $1 million helped bring in more that $100 million to support brain research that is changing the world,” DeLaney says. “The Brain Institute provides more than 400 jobs, from janitor to brain surgeon.


Embarking on New Era

Today, DeLaney sees his efforts in helping the economy as more important than ever—to both the Alachua County area and UF. That’s because UF has capped its enrollment, resulting in a slowdown of economic growth based on the university’s expansion.

“For years, we added an average of 1,200 new students a year,” DeLaney says. “That was 1,200 bedrooms and 3,600 meals a day. It was a powerful economic driver.

“The loss of this economic driver is like a major factory in town closing,” he says.

DeLaney is among a group of university and community leaders coming to the rescue. Their efforts are focused on growing Alachua County’s innovation economy, including developing Innovation Square.

DeLaney is particularly excited about the cooperation among UF representatives, business leaders and city officials in developing Innovation Square, a combined office, laboratory, residential and shopping area between the university campus and downtown Gainesville.

“The collaboration today is stunning,” he says. “It’s night and day from the past. Everyone is thinking outside the box to do something really cool.”


Always Looking Ahead

DeLaney sees himself as a problem-solver. Laying the groundwork for Innovation Square is a case in point.

In the 1990s, DeLaney was among a handful of university and community leaders who began planning for ways for UF and Shands to help revitalize the area between the campus and downtown, including the former site of Alachua General Hospital, he says.

By the time Shands Healthcare decided to close AGH, DeLaney had already completed the change of the “medical” zoning and land use for the hospital and the buildings around it to “mixed use,” paving the way for the formation of Innovation Square in the area.

“A few of us had a vision, and we worked on the details to achieve that vision,” DeLaney says. “The mixed-use zoning was in place when a federal grant became available to build the Innovation Hub (the first building in Innovation Square). If the zoning was still ‘medical,’ it would have been a showstopper.”

DeLaney has become a lay expert on storm water, a subject that gets little public attention but has a big impact on UF.

His expertise helped him negotiate with the City of Gainesville when the city adopted storm water assessments—creating a potential controversy about how much of the fees UF should pay.

“I helped arrange for a study that showed that about the same amount of storm water drains onto UF land from outside the campus as vice versa,” DeLaney says. “We were able to avoid a legal battle over storm water assessments by agreeing to work together to solve the problem.”

Now, DeLaney is working with city, county and state officials in developing an innovative plan to create a system that will use the addition of a large amount of vegetation to filter water draining from the area near the UF campus into Bivens Arm, a shallow lake, and then to Paynes Prairie.

“Faculty members who are highly regarded experts are helping create a project that’s good for the environment and less expensive than typical storm water treatment projects,” he says.

His work on land use and infrastructure is just as important as helping with land donations, he says. “While many people in the community are thinking ahead 10 years, I try to have a 50 to 100 year horizon, since the university will be here forever.”

DeLaney has served on boards and committees involved in economic development, including being the first chairman of the Alachua County Economic Development Advisory Committee when was it was created in 1998.

DeLaney believes his civic involvement has created goodwill. “The UF Foundation is seen as an important player in the marketplace,” he says.

The relationships that DeLaney has created helps generate gifts of property, he says. “Often, we don’t have to seek out gifts. People come to us with offers of property.”

Creating Win-Win Scenarios

DeLaney sets up closings that transfer donated property to the UF Foundation, gets the property ready for sale and sells it. The proceeds generally have gone to buildings, professorships and scholarships.

DeLaney seeks to leverage gifts of property by  helping donors maximize their tax benefits from the gifts. “Donors avoid paying capital gains tax on property they donate, and they can take a tax write-off on its value,” he says.

DeLaney has also worked with UF Foundation staff to obtain gifts of property that can be used to match state funds in various matching programs.

“Working with donors can be lots of fun,” he says. “It’s great to go to a closing on a $1 million gift of property and to have the donor thank me for helping him.”

DeLaney and his wife, Paula, share a commitment to helping the community. Paula has done so by serving as a Gainesville city commissioner and mayor and a county commissioner, a post she just left.

“It’s been great for both my wife and I to be working to help the community,” he says. “I sleep like a baby.”

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