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USF Bulls recommend 2 companies for on-campus stadium

The design phase could begin in a few weeks, after board approval.
A Bulls on-campus football stadium remains part of the plan for USF's athletics district.
A Bulls on-campus football stadium remains part of the plan for USF's athletics district. [ Courtesy of USF ]
Published Sep. 6|Updated Sep. 6

ST. PETERSBURG — The design phase for USF’s proposed on-campus football stadium could begin in a few weeks after the Bulls recommended two companies to lead the long-awaited project Tuesday.

USF has awarded an invitation to negotiate to Barton Malow and Populous, two well-known design and construction firms, the Bulls announced during the board of trustees meeting.

Though no vote was taken because negotiations have not been finalized, the announcement was still a significant development in the Bulls’ quest to move from Raymond James Stadium to campus in 2026.

Related: What will USF Bulls gain from an on-campus football stadium?

“This is a huge step forward,” athletic director Michael Kelly said. “We’ve obviously never gone this far as a university in this process. (We) look forward to working with the team of Barton Malow and Populous to make this a reality.”

Negotiations with the two firms are expected to be completed in the next two to three weeks. After that, Kelly and USF Foundation CEO Jay Stroman will formally ask the board to approve the contracts — and the first budget.

Kelly said the Bulls will first ask for funding for the design phase, which is expected to take 12-18 months. USF and the firms will seek input from the entire campus and Tampa Bay community. Those conversations will determine what features the Bulls want and need. Covered seating? Classrooms? A football operations center?

The answers will become clear in the next 12-14 months and shape the final construction cost. Kelly said he had nothing new to report on how USF intends to pay for the nine-figure project, though he reiterated that donations will play a “big part.”

“We have to figure out what we want, how much does it cost, then we figure out and finalize the plan on how we get there…” Kelly said. “We will build the very best facility we can afford.”

Three groups submitted proposals for the project, and USF interviewed two last month before picking Populous and Barton Malow.

Populous is one of the biggest players in the stadium design industry. Its projects include the recently opened on-campus stadiums at Baylor and Minnesota and Colorado State’s Canvas Stadium — a Group of Five peer and potential model for USF’s venue.

Colorado State's Canvas Stadium has been seen as a potential model of sorts for what USF could build.
Colorado State's Canvas Stadium has been seen as a potential model of sorts for what USF could build. [ KIRK KENNEY | The San Diego Union-Tribune ]

Barton Malow’s recent projects include stadium renovations at Ohio State, Notre Dame, Michigan and the Rose Bowl.

Kelly said the Bulls liked how the companies have collaborated on more than 40 venues (including Penn State’s Beaver Stadium and Orlando City SC’s Exploria Stadium). They also were thoughtful about the environment and understanding of USF’s commitment to using minority-owned businesses.

“It’s the right time for this university to move forward,” Kelly said. “I’m glad we continue to make very good steps in that direction.”

Tuesday’s update was the latest in a renewed push that began last September when board chair Will Weatherford proclaimed that the university and its fans deserve an on-campus stadium. Since then, the Bulls identified a site (north of the current practice fields) and rough capacity (35,000). They also have zeroed in on an opening date of 2026 — two seasons before the lease ends at Raymond James Stadium.

Related: A brief history of USF Bulls’ decades-long football stadium saga

Many attempts to pursue a stadium have stalled over the years, but the Bulls seem aligned this time. In her opening remarks during Tuesday’s meeting at the St. Petersburg campus’ University Student Center, president Rhea Law said the project is “moving forward quickly.” Continuing to evaluate the stadium’s feasibility was among the 2022-23 presidential goals the board approved Tuesday.

Questions arose during the meeting about academics and priorities. The Bulls intend to use the stadium as a learning opportunity — like internships during the construction/design process. Stroman also downplayed concerns that fundraising for a stadium could take the focus away from other projects.

“We can walk and chew gum at the same time,” Stroman said. “We do it every day.”

The ongoing emphasis comes amidst a seismic shift in the landscape of college athletics, from College Football Playoff expansion to conference realignment. A new stadium would be a major selling point for the Bulls if they hope to join a more prestigious conference.

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