When MOSI moves, will USF football finally get its stadium? Don't hold your breath.
TAMPA — After the Museum of Science and Industry announced last week it would move to downtown Tampa, it didn't take long for University of South Football fans and observers to eye the museum's current digs for a future on-campus stadium.
There are a lot of reasons why proponents of an on-campus football stadium think the MOSI site would be perfect for USF to finally get its own home.
The most obvious is proximity. MOSI is just across the street from the USF campus on East Fowler Avenue. That would make it a lot easier for students to attend games than the trek to Raymond James Stadium, where the Bulls have played their games since 1997.
The team's practice facility is nearby too.
There's also already a pedestrian crossway over East Fowler Avenue that would allow student foot traffic to safely cross one of Tampa's busiest thoroughfares.
And it's certainly big enough. The parcel that hosts MOSI is more than 75 acres, meaning plenty of room for a stadium, parking, tailgating and other amenities, with space to spare.
So why throw cold water on this idea?
It's not impossible, maybe not even terribly unlikely, that the MOSI site could one day host a new football stadium. But at the very least it's quite a ways away.
Museum leadership is going to spend the next year just studying a strategy to move to downtown, where it will join the redevelopment project of Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Cascade Investment. A physical move will take even longer. Museum President and CEO Molly Demeulenaere said industry experts estimate it could take three to five years.
USF also already has a lot going on with its plans to open its medical school in downtown Tampa. That's not to say USF administrators can't walk and chew gum at the same time, but that's a huge, expensive endeavor that used up a lot of political capital in Tampa and Tallahassee to make happen.
The speculation also assumes that Hillsborough County, which owns the building and the large parcel beneath and around MOSI, would even want to sell or lease the space to USF.
Told USF fans were already buzzing about the potential to turn MOSI's move into a football stadium, County Administrator Mike Merrill let out an exasperated: "Oh no."
Hillsborough County has ambitious plans for the area around USF. It is in the process of a multi-million dollar study to transform that area into an innovation district that would attract established and upstart companies and young, talented workers.
The innovation district would leverage the existing economic engines nearby, like Florida Hospital Tampa, Busch Gardens and Moffit Cancer Center, to appeal to companies and well-educated people that are interested in working with nearby institutions on new research and business opportunities. It would be supplemented with work space, housing, retail, dining, nightlife and transit to build the kind of live, work, play that is trendy in urban planning right now.
And USF would have a critical role in that. Planners believe the university's impressive research capabilities and its track record of producing patents are attractive to tech companies and startups. The patents especially could be commercialized to benefit campus researchers and private companies. So by prioritizing a stadium, USF could be jeopardizing one opportunity to advance another.
The parcel that currently houses MOSI is the linchpin to all of this. Merrill believes that land can be used to lure one or more large, established companies to anchor the innovation district.
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn agreed. He said a smaller on-campus stadium for USF is probably 10 or 15 years away.
"You've got the capacity to turn that into something really special and incubate a lot of businesses that take advantage of USF research," Buckhorn said. "Over time, done correctly, that could be a huge, huge asset not just for the university but the entire city. And if you could link that downtown with a rail system, that would be a huge win for the entire community. So I'm very optimistic."
Perhaps there is a way to accomplish both. Last year, County Commissioner Victor Crist, a USF alumnus, said there might be a way to incorporate a stadium into a business park, if it also had office and classroom space, labs, meeting space, restaurants and a hotel. That would be a unique stadium, but Merrill didn't write off the possibility.
Still, he said the board has put considerable money into planning the innovation district and right now that is the priority.
"Given what we're trying to do up there to really remake the whole area into a hotbed of technology and jobs, and create a high tech footprint and that site being so critical as an incentive to attract companies, that would probably be the board's emphasis," Merrill said.