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USF Study Proposes Sites for $200M On-Campus Football Stadium

Aug 8, 2017

Twenty years ago next month, the University of South Florida football team took to the field of Houlihan's Stadium for its first game.

Since that 80-3 trouncing of Kentucky Wesleyan, the enduring question has been if the Bulls would ever play in a stadium on their Tampa campus.

A feasibility study released Tuesday may bring an answer.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, USF Athletic Director Mark Harlan heralded the findings of a report that was a year in the making - but called it just the first step in a long process.

View the USF Football Stadium Conceptual Planning Study here.

"When you engage in a project of this scope, you want to make sure that you really dive in and take a look," Harlan said.

The study identified property in two different zones where an on-campus stadium might work: a 74-acre parcel of land on the southwestern side of the Tampa campus at Fowler Avenue and Bruce B. Downs; and a 34-acre parcel on the southeastern side at Fowler and USF Bull Run Drive.

The second proposed stadium site is near the southeast corner of the Tampa campus at Fowler Ave. and USF Bull Run Drive.
Credit USF Athletics / Beck Group

The proposed stadium would seat around 40,000 fans, with the potential to expand it to 50,000.

The figure most interested parties wanted to hear is the estimated cost: about $200 million today, but as much as $247 million if construction doesn't start until 2022.

Since state funds and tuition can't pay for a stadium, identifying potential funding sources is the new priority.

"That's really what the next step is all about, it's about the financial, the modeling that it would take to get us there and what are the different avenues we would take to get to the numbers that we need to get to," Harlan said.

"We know that these are viable locations, it answers the Board of Trustees, 'Can it be done?'" Calvin Williams, USF Vice President for Administrative Services, added. "The answer is we have identified locations, now let's look at the financial strategy, let's look at the fundraising feasibility analysis."

Harlan also addressed persistent media questions about whether student fees might be increased to help the effort.

"At the end of the end of the day, any student fees has to work through their committees and their structure," Harlan said. "So I think right now we're so early in the process, it's hard quite candidly to take that off the table. I think we'd have to talk to the students about it and see what they feel about it.

"When you do something like this, you can't harm the other great things that are going on at your university, you have to have pathways to be able to fund this type of a project, and this university has time and time again gone through the process that we're undergoing now," he added. "They look at it, they study it and they figure out different avenues for payment and that's our next phase."

The proposed stadium would include 20 to 26 suites and four to six Founders Suites, 10,000 square feet of classroom space, a "Bulls Zone" for fans and premium tailgating options.

According to the study, around 13,800 parking spots near the stadium would also be necessary.

The plan also includes a mixed-use facility that would feature a 200-bed hotel, retail space and 10,000 square feet of conference space.

USF VP for Administrative Services Calvin Williams and Athletic Director Mark Harlan present the football stadium study to reporters on the Tampa campus.
Credit Mark Schreiner / WUSF Public Media

"When you look at the two locations, both offer great opportunities as well as both offer some unique challenges," Williams said.

While the southeastern site has better visibility and access to more existing parking spots within a 15-minute walk, the land use and zoning will have to be changed. In addition, two current buildings inside the USF Research Park might have to be demolished, and some of the USF Botanical Gardens grounds might be affected.

The southwestern site is in what's currently designated as the campus' athletics zone, but is much smaller, which cuts down on the flexibility for both stadium construction and access once it's built.

There are also concerns about how much of the campus utilities are under both areas and may need to be re-routed.

One prospective site the study addressed - and dismissed - is across Fowler at 50th Street: MOSI, which is already decreasing its footprint as it eyes a possible move to downtown.

"Right now, MOSI does not belong to the University of South Florida, it belongs to Hillsborough County," Williams said. "We wanted to look at those locations, those zones that we control."

"It's too preliminary right now given where we are," he added. "It could, in the future, very much be (an option), but at this point, we have no idea."

And while an on-campus location remains in question, the Bulls will continue playing at Raymond James Stadium for the foreseeable future. In May, USF signed a new six-year lease that has a 24-month exit clause for the university.

“The University of South Florida enjoys an outstanding relationship with the owners of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Raymond James Stadium, and we are very grateful for their committed support to USF Football,” Harlan said. “We are honoring the interests of our university and alumni as we continue having this discussion. Our students come first, and we will ensure they are part of any future decisions regarding a new stadium.”

USF is also looking at building a indoor practice facility and football complex to go with their existing practice fields. Harlan says they've hired the Kansas City office of design and architecture firm HOK to assist with the project. 

"There's so much exciting things going on with our football team, with our overall athletic department, with the trajectory that we're on, we are going to continue to move forward," he said.

The study, which was conducted by the Beck Group, cost $75,000. It was requested as part of the USF Athletics Strategic Plan that was approved by the USF Board of Trustees in May 2016. 

The study will be presented at a trustees committee meeting on August 17, but no decision about a stadium will be made then.