Benefactors Tony and Sonja Nicholson
(Photo courtesy of Orlando Magazine)
To us, the Nicholsons are more than just a name. They are our supporters, our advisors, and most importantly, our friends.
Mr. Anthony J. Nicholson and Mrs. Sonja Rose Nicholson have long been involved with the University of Central Florida, which they like to refer to as their second home. They both previously served on the UCF Board of Trustees while Tony Nicholson has served as chief of the UCF Development Committee and Sonja Nicholson has served as a member of the board of directors for the Golden Knights Club. In 1996, the Nicholsons pledged a $2 million donation to the university, and in return, the university named the School of Communication after them. The Nicholson School of Communication became the first program or building at UCF to be named after a person.
Since then, the Nicholsons have remained actively involved in the school. They are members of the Board of Visitors, which assists the faculty and administration in enhancing the quality of the school’s educational and research missions. They are also supportive of the advertising-public relations department’s Quotes Club, of which they are honorary members. In 2000, the Nicholson School of Communication Alumni Committee inducted Tony Nicholson into the school’s Hall of Fame as an honorary member.
The Nicholsons are also very involved with life outside of the Nicholson School. Currently, Tony Nicholson serves as a member of the board of directors for both the UCF Foundation and the UCF Athletics Association. The Nicholsons’ continued philanthropy with UCF has earned them the rank of Diamond Knights, which is the highest level of donor giving. Together, they have donated $2 million for the construction of the Nicholson Fieldhouse, the first full-length indoor football field in the south. They also helped to pay for the football team’s entry fee for the Mid-American Conference in 2002.
About Tony Nicholson
Tony Nicholson started his entrepreneurial career in 1962, shortly after he graduated from college. He attended Tulane University, where he was very engaged in the college life. He was a member of the Zeta Beta Tau fraternity, which he joined in 1956, and he was elected senior class president in 1960. That same year, he graduated from Tulane with a bachelor’s degree in business administration.
After graduation, Nicholson began working in new site acquisition and lease negotiation for the McDonald’s Corporation. This experience led Nicholson to Site Finders Unlimited, a real estate brokerage, where he offered site locations to food chains. Within a short period of time, Nicholson had mastered the business and decided to start his own company, Anthony J. Nicholson Inc. The company’s main function was as a real estate brokerage dealing in the placement of first, second and land mortgages. In this position, Nicholson was able to place several million dollars-worth of land mortgages, the largest being the Tyson Corner Shopping Center in Washington, D.C. At that time, this was the largest shopping center in the United States.
Soon thereafter, he expanded his services to financing and managing apartments. This decision led him to the Orlando area in 1967. Once in Central Florida, he joined in limited partnerships with interests in some 2,000 apartments from West Berlin, New Jersey, to Orlando, Florida. He was responsible for locating properties, selling properties and managing the assets for the partners. He also owned and operated more than 850 apartment units in Louisiana.
Meanwhile, Nicholson’s Orlando-based business empire started to grow. In 1981, he founded Alltelco, Orlando’s first long-distance telephone resale company, which he sold in 1990 to Phone One. Not long after, he founded Hi-Res Magazine, which was internationally distributed by Dell with 150,000 copies in monthly distribution. Nicholson then bought Microfilm Services in Orlando and formed Dakota Microfilm Services, which he sold in 1996.
In the mid-80s, Nicholson even brought a touch of Hollywood to Orlando. In 1985, he formed Nicholson International Productions Inc., a company that promoted concerts and managed and produced videos here in Florida. The company co-produced Richard Harris in Camelot and produced “Swayze Dancing,” featuring actor Patrick Swayze. The video won the ITA Gold Video Award for production. Additionally, the company is responsible for employee leasing and real estate acquisition.
After working in video production, Nicholson then ventured into radio production. He purchased “Pirate Radio” in Panama City, Florida, and under his direction, the station soon rose to No. 1. He owned the radio station for two years before selling it in 1992.
Although Nicholson wore many different hats over the course of his career, his main focus was on real estate development and building. He founded Nicholson Homes, and was the president and co-owner of the company, along with his wife, Sonja. Since 1995, Nicholson has overseen the development of more than 3,000 homes and 10,000 lots in the Orlando area.
Over the past few years, Nicholson’s main focus has shifted toward the arts. He has been a limited partner in Broadway shows such as “Porgy and Bess,” “The Best Man,” starring James Earl Jones; and “Evita,” starring Ricky Martin. He has also invested in “Matilda” and “Cinderella.”
Professionally, Nicholson has been involved in a number of organizations. He has been elected to the board of directors for Who’s Who Worldwide Business Leaders, the New York City Center, the Orlando Area Apartment Association, the Florida Apartment Association and the National Apartment Association. He also serves as president of the Orlando Area Apartment Association, the Committee of 200 for the Orlando Area Chamber of Commerce and the Walt Disney Memorial Cancer Center at Florida Hospital.
Nicholson’s present companies include Nicholson USA Properties Inc., Affordable Homes of America Inc., Magic Housing Inc., United States Financial Services Inc., U.S. Title Co., and Systems and Solutions International. He is also one of the owners of the Orlando Predators.
About Sonja Nicholson
Like her husband, Sonja Nicholson also has a passion for real estate. She is the owner of RE/MAX Park Avenue in Winter Park, a boutique real estate agency that was previously known as Rose Properties Inc.
In 1980, she moved to the Orlando area from Birmingham, Alabama, and shortly thereafter, she earned her Real Estate Salesman License and her Brokers License. After working with local real estate experts, she started her own real estate company.
Nicholson is currently on the Florida Hospital Cancer Board, the Board of the Nicholson Center, the Board of Directors for the Florida Hospital Cancer Institute, the YMCA of Central Florida’s Metropolitan Board, Winter Park Memorial Women’s Task Force, the Florida Leadership Council, The Rep Theatre, and is an Emeritus Board Member. She was previously on the Orlando Chamber of Commerce Committee and Record Management Boards.
Her humanitarian efforts extend to other parts of the Central Florida community, with donations that have led to the construction of aquariums in numerous Florida Hospital locations around the area. The Coalition for the Homeless, the Central Florida Children’s Home, the Shrine Circus and Kissimmee Little League have also benefited from her support.
The Nicholson Name
The Nicholson name isn’t exclusive to the UCF campus. The Nicholson Center at the Florida Hospital in Celebration was also named after the philanthropic couple, who donated $5 million to Florida Hospital to build the center. The $35 million, state-of-the-art facility now trains thousands of surgeons from all across the nation in robotic surgery, particularly in the use of the da Vinci Surgical System.