You can't top this, Gators and 'Noles: USF's Bulls are getting their own Publix.

The 29,000-square-foot store is set to open in late 2017, officials say.

USF has suggested to Publix that longer hours, more premade food and a seating area would help lure more students. Susan Thurston   |   Times files
USF has suggested to Publix that longer hours, more premade food and a seating area would help lure more students.Susan Thurston | Times files
Published January 21 2016
Updated January 22 2016

TAMPA — Sorry, Gators and 'Noles. Publix is going to the Bulls.

The Florida Board of Governors approved plans Thursday to build a supermarket on the northern edge of the University of South Florida's Tampa campus. It will be the first supermarket to be built on a college campus in Florida.

The university says the new store will help its students pick up groceries without having to dodge traffic. And it also will serve medical workers at the nearby USF Health complex.

Construction on the 29,000-square-foot store will break ground later this year, USF said, and the store should open in late 2017. The supermarket will be part of a new 2,000-bed housing development on USF's campus, a public-private venture that won state approval last year. Construction on that project also is scheduled to start later this year.

When the university surveyed students about what they wanted on campus, a grocery store topped the list, said John Long, the university's chief operating officer. So, about three years ago, it started looking for one.

The project is aimed at shaking up USF's campus culture. Many of the 5,500 students who live on the Tampa campus leave on the weekends. But a Publix could help keep students around on weekends by making it easier for them to live on campus without a car, Long said.

"We need to give them a reason to stay here," Long said. "This really is going to be something that sets us apart from other universities in the state and out of the state."

There are two supermarkets near the Tampa campus, but with heavy traffic, it's difficult to walk or bike to either one. USF is bordered by three busy roads, E Fletcher Avenue on the north, E Fowler Avenue on the south and Bruce B. Downs Boulevard on the west.

The store will be on the smaller side of Publix stores — bigger than a convenience store, but smaller than a standard supermarket, which is closer to 45,000 square feet. The USF location will have 145 parking spaces.

USF has suggested to Publix that longer hours, more premade food and a seating area would help lure more students, Long said.

Publix spokesman Brian West said the company doesn't yet know whether it will act on USF's suggestions. Publix hasn't drawn up plans for the supermarket and hasn't decided whether its hours or offerings will be any different. However, it's not likely to have as much variety as a standard store, West said.

"We're just so early in the process," he said.

USF's Board of Trustees approved the project in October. The final hurdle for the project was approval from the BOG, which oversees the State University System.

"This is a new prototype for them," Long said.

Still, Publix's USF plans don't suggest a new strategy of targeting college campuses, West said, who called the store a "unique opportunity."

Publix is expected to spend $12.2 million to build the store on the corner of Fletcher Avenue and USF Palm Drive, and it will pay the university $3 million in rent over the course of its 21-year lease. The company will have the option to extend its lease five years at a time through 2067.

The university contacted Trader Joe's, Whole Foods and Winn-Dixie about building an on-campus grocery store, said Nick Trivunovich, USF's chief financial officer. But no other supermarket chain submitted a bid.

Contact Thad Moore at tmoore@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3434. Follow @thadmoore.

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