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USF planning home improvements

Published Aug. 24, 2005

Just six months after USF moved into its $18-million athletic facility, athletic director Doug Woolard outlined a vision for the Bulls' future Tuesday, one that includes new and upgraded stadiums and fields for nearly every sport.

Just how much it will cost and how soon it could become reality remain to be seen. But the Bulls have taken a crucial step toward making their teams more competitive with their future opponents in the Big East.

"When I met with the other Big East presidents, I made a promise that all our facilities would be comparable to what you see in the Big East," USF president Judy Genshaft said. "This is only the first step, but it will allow us to bring what we have up to that level."

Woolard and former athletic director Lee Roy Selmon unveiled an ambitious conceptual rendering of USF's future, one they will explore with feasibility studies. As important, will be a massive fund-raising effort.

The recommended upgrades include:

+ Renovations to the Sun Dome, including construction of a practice facility for men's and women's basketball on the north end of the existing arena.

+ New stadiums for softball and tennis, to be built on the southeast corner of campus, near the intersection of Fowler and 50th Street.

+ Renovations to Red McEwen Field, home to USF baseball since 1966, including covered seating.

+ A new soccer stadium and practice field.

+ Three new practice fields for the football team, all closer to the main athletic facility.

+ A new sports multi-purpose field, with an artificial surface and 400-meter track to be jointly used by USF athletics and the student recreation department.

The first hurdle was cleared Tuesday when Woolard and Selmon presented a proposal to the university's campus development committee, which unanimously approved the reallotment of about 20 acres of the north Tampa campus for new athletic facilities. Most of the land now is vacant.

USF has not begun to determine a timetable, though the new arenas likely wouldn't be in place before the 2006-07 school year. Asked for a price tag, neither Woolard nor Selmon would suggest a figure, though Woolard said the combined projects would "significantly" exceed the $18-million raised for the intercollegiate athletic center, which opened in June. The cost of the facility upgrades will not require any taxpayer contributions and will be the focus of fundraising from USF boosters and alumni.

"It'll be a hefty number," said Selmon, now president of the USF Foundation Partnership for Athletics. "We know we have a big, exciting challenge ahead of us."

The difference, Woolard pointed out, is that these upgrades will be something Bulls fans can appreciate, improving the experience of attending USF events.

"It's going to be more than just putting a roof on something," said Woolard, who told the committee that USF must improve its facilities to be able to compete in recruiting with Big East opponents.

USF's baseball stadium has no shade and its dugouts flood after heavy rains. The soccer fields aren't regulation size. The tennis stadium has no grandstand or parking. Woolard said there are high schools with better softball facilities.

"In the six months I've been here, it's become increasingly apparent to me that this is a very important piece for us as we move into the Big East," Woolard said. "The best thing to come out of this today is that the university community is excited about this."

In addition to allocating about 20 acres for athletic use, the committee approved a swap of land parcels zoned for athletic and recreational use, allowing both to have a relatively contiguous area.

"This is very exciting for USF," Michael Rierson, USF's vice president for the division of university advancement, told the committee. "This is as big as it gets."