$1M gift names the Cheezem Family Landing/Undergraduate Collaboration Commons in Legacy Hall

July 12, 2023

Mike and Katherine Cheezem recently committed $1 million to name the Cheezem Family Landing/Undergraduate Collaboration Commons in Legacy Hall, the college’s future home.

The developer of some of the most impactful projects in Pinellas County and bustling downtown St. Petersburg has made, with his spouse, a gift to help the Florida State University College of Business soar to increasingly new heights.

Alumnus Mike Cheezem (B.S. Finance ’75) and his wife, Katherine, recently committed $1 million to name the Cheezem Family Landing/Undergraduate Collaboration Commons in Legacy Hall, the college’s future home.

Cheezem, founder and CEO of St. Petersburg-based JMC Communities, said he and his wife made the gift largely to advance the college’s journey to preeminence.

“I remain truly impressed with the quality of the faculty and staff members, programs and students, who are getting equipped to find their niche, become successful and make a difference,” he said. “I’m confident that Legacy Hall will help the college become a global leader in that regard.”

FSU leaders tout the five-story facility’s potential to draw exceptional students and to attract and retain more world-renowned faculty members. Ground broke in October, and officials expect the building to open in 2025 – becoming the largest academic space on campus.

Legacy Hall has only four non-office spaces left to name. The costs to name those spaces range from $50,000 to $1 million. Several faculty and staff offices remain available from $15,000 to $35,000.

“Every gift to Legacy Hall is an investment in our students, faculty and staff members and our future,” said Michael Hartline, dean of the college. “We genuinely thank Mike and Katherine Cheezem for their generosity and for the support, vision and action they demonstrate through this remarkable gift.”

Gift idea ‘struck a chord’

Cheezem said the Cheezem Family Landing/Undergraduate Collaboration Commons symbolizes the teamwork that he calls the cornerstone of JMC Communities, which focuses on the construction of condominiums, single family homes and Traditional Neighborhood Development, or TND, communities, among other ventures. 

So, when Hartline pitched the idea of naming Legacy Hall’s undergraduate commons, Cheezem said, “it really struck a chord that I find very meaningful.”

“The development business is truly a team business where every individual is vital,” he said. “It’s so powerful, that ability to listen, to guide and to bring people together to achieve a common goal. I consider those insights and ideas and that sense of helping each other integral to success in life in general, so I was pleased to have the opportunity to contribute to the construction of Legacy Hall in this way.”

The gift continues decades of college and university support from Cheezem. A longtime Seminole Boosters supporter, he served as a longtime sponsor of FSU’s annual Real Estate TRENDS Conference and spent years on the college’s Real Estate Executive Board. He also contributed to an endowed professorship in honor of Dean Gatzlaff, the former professor of real estate who retired last year.

He credits his experience with Gatzlaff, inducted this spring into the college’s Faculty Hall of Fame, and the real estate program for introducing him to students and showing him “the quality of teaching and experiences they were receiving.”

“I was truly blown away,” he said.

Success as a developer

Following his father, Charles – who built homes and condominiums in Pinellas County and throughout Florida – Cheezem launched JMC Development while in college and joined two friends in a venture to build and sell an eight-unit apartment complex. 

Three years after graduating, he launched JMC Communities and since has overseen the development of 17 projects and more than 4,700 homes in Florida and South Carolina. 

He also has helped change the face of St. Petersburg, from a sleepy retirement city known for park benches and shuffleboard courts to a bustling urban center full of restaurants, museums, entertainment and upscale downtown living. One of his downtown projects, Ovation – a 26-story condominium complex that overlooks Tampa Bay – stands as the city’s fourth-tallest building. 

Cheezem’s company also maintains a presence in Clemson, S.C., location of his dad’s alma mater, Clemson University. Charles Cheezem passed in 2009.

Mike Cheezem, who earned an MBA at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, also credits FSU for his foundation in business. Then, as today, he said, individual attention reigned in the business college. 

“I still appreciate the listening, the guiding, the quality of the teaching and the direction that I received,” he said. “That experience was very meaningful to me.” 

Cheezem competed on the FSU men’s swimming team and spent much free time in the outdoors. Lake Jackson, where he’d go bass fishing, and the Wacissa River, where he’d go canoeing, marked two of his favorite Tallahassee-area spots.

“I have fond memories of FSU,” he said. “That’s a special place to be.”

He and Katherine live in St. Petersburg, where he still loves boating, fishing and scuba diving. He also enjoys flying, having obtained his pilot’s license while in high school.

Speaking of heights, he touts his alma mater’s recognition as a top business school as inspiration for this latest gift.

“Very bright, eager people are getting an opportunity to experience a top-quality program,” he said. “There’s nothing more important and exciting to me than inspiring young people to develop their potential and to do something special.”

-- Pete Reinwald