Placer County looks across the Atlantic for university partner

A high-level delegation of Placer County officials is poised to travel to Coventry, England, this November to continue a long-distance relationship its members hope will culminate in the prestigious University of Warwick opening a full-service campus on farmland just west of Roseville.

The visit, funded by the Sacramento region’s main business recruitment organization, is the latest step in a 12-year effort by Placer County and developer Angelo K. Tsakopoulos, now 77, to recruit a university to locate on land he is donating in southern Placer County. The planned visit comes after two years of behind-the-scenes dialogue and previous visits by Warwick officials to the area.

Warwick is the third university Placer County has seriously courted. The first two, De La Salle University (a new school proposed by the Christian Brothers order) and Drexel University, pulled out after years of planning, but not before the county rezoned about 1,600 acres owned by Tsakopoulos and his partners for the university and adjacent development that would pay for its construction. County officials say they hope University of Warwick will turn out to be the keeper.

“This project is done. It’s ready to go. We’re the groomsman just looking for a bride,” said Supervisor Kirk Uhler. “We have been dating for a while. ... A promise ring isn’t too far off, and a wedding ring too much further off.”

University of Warwick officials could not be reached for comment Monday, but Uhler said the school has been looking at the Sacramento region for some time and first eyed a site along Highway 50. When Drexel pulled out in 2011, Warwick turned its attention to Placer. Uhler said the University of Warwick is aiming to set up campuses around the globe. Having a stronger international presence was one of the university’s five goals expressed in its “Vision 2015” plan published in 2007. According to news reports, the campus attended global real estate conferences for several years.

Uhler said it was Tsakopoulos’ people who first built a relationship with Warwick and brought them to the region.

“I think we have definitely taken a giant step forward in terms of moving it down the road,” said Barbara Hayes, president and chief executive officer of Sacramento Area Commerce and Trade Organization, which is funding the international sit-down. SACTO is funded by a mix of business and government support.

Representing Roseville on the journey will be Assistant City Manager Rob Jensen, Mayor Susan Rohan and Councilman Tim Herman. London-born City Manager Ray Kerridge is not making the trip. The council approved the travel last month. Approval of Placer County’s planned contingent of Executive Officer David Boesch and Supervisors Uhler and Robert M. Weygandt will appear on today’s board agenda.

Roseville officials say they’re excited to be part of the fact-finding mission. The city will be needed to extend sewer, water and other utilities to the undeveloped property. Jensen said the city will work to help the regional university plan move forward, but added it will also continue its efforts to bring additional satellite campuses to downtown Roseville.

SACTO’s Hayes said the business group is keen on Warwick because of the school’s emphasis on technology, science, engineering and entrepreneurship. “If we have more smart people in the region, we can attract more high-value companies,” Hayes said. “What it could mean for the region is expansion of tech development and innovation.”

The University of Warwick was founded in 1965 and has an enrollment of 23,400 full-time students, primarily at its campus on the outskirts of Coventry. It has consistently been ranked as one of England’s best institutions of higher learning.

In December, Tsakopoulos transferred the land for the project and surrounding development to the nonprofit W.M. Corp. The Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit also owns Washington Monthly, whose president and former publisher is Tsakopoulos’ son-in-law Markos Kounalakis.

Michael Faust, a local consultant working as a spokesman for W.M. Corp., struck an optimistic but cautious tone. He said the nonprofit is in “the middle of negotiations” with Warwick but cautioned against getting tied to any potential university partner.

“The W.M. Corporation took this property, and we work everyday toward bringing a university to this region,” Faust said. “We are going to continue to move forward to create the best university we can on that spot.”

He said W.M. Corp. envisions a campus about the size of Stockton’s University of the Pacific, with approximately 6,000 students and 800 professors. The campus has a budget of $300 million and an estimated economic impact of $700 million.

The plan calls for splitting the 1,600 acres, with 600 acres given to the participating university for the construction of a campus and the remaining 557 acres of development land sold to fund an endowment. That endowment is expected generate $150 million for the new college, Faust said.

The university would have to make a substantial contribution to the project, but Faust would not estimate its total costs.

When he first began pushing his university plan in 2001, Tsakopoulos was criticized by environmental groups for using it to increase the likelihood that other property he owns nearby would be approved for development. But the Placer County Board of Supervisors got behind his plan. And while Tsakopoulos did not succeed in bringing Drexel University to Placer County, the respected Philadelphia school did open a satellite campus in a Tsakopoulos-owned high-rise in Old Sacramento, where it operates today.

Hayes said Tsakopoulos could create an impressive legacy for himself by bringing institutions of higher learning to the region.

Uhler called the Placer County land donation unprecedented.

“This is just an incredible opportunity for this region. We’ve never seen a donation of this magnitude,” Uhler said. “I view my job to do everything I can to maximize the opportunity.”


Location: Coventry, England

Founded: 1965

Motto: Mens agitat molem (Mind moves the matter)

Enrollment: 22,944

Total budget: $597 million

International presence: Venice campus, alliance with Monash University in Australia, teaching programs in three African countries


Nov. 2013 Planned visit to Coventry, England

Dec. 2012 Tsakopoulos and partners donate land to the nonprofit W.M. Corp.

Aug. 2011 Drexel pulls plug on Placer involvement

Dec. 2008 Placer County approves Regional University Specific Plan

Nov. 2007 Reports surface of Drexel’s interest in site

May 2005 Christian Brothers back away from participation

Sept. 2001 Environmental groups announce opposition

2001 Early public discussion of Tsakopoulos plan