Pitches to build USF’s proposed on-campus football stadium provide a glimpse into the biggest unknown surrounding the Bulls’ long-awaited facility: cost.
The proposal by design/construction firm AECOM Hunt pegged construction costs at $350 million. The M.A. Mortenson Company assumed construction would total $300 million.
Those numbers are literal ballpark estimates, not binding quotes. But USF officials have said almost nothing about a budget for the project, which makes those rough figures noteworthy — even though they come from rejected bids.
USF announced earlier this month that it’s finalizing negotiations with the third and final partnership that submitted a proposal, Populous and Barton Malow. Their proposal listed the construction budget as “TBD.”
That makes sense for how the Bulls are pursuing the project. They first want to meet with designers and others on campus and in the community to identify the specific needs and wants for a 35,000-seat stadium just north of the current practice fields.
That’s also the process outlined by Barton Malow and Populous. They said they’ll hold workshops with stakeholders and others “to fully understand USF’s goals” early in the design phase. From there, they’ll estimate costs before producing a guaranteed maximum price.
Though the total dollar figure remains unclear, the proposals — obtained by the Tampa Bay Times through an open records request — provide a few concrete financial details.
Populous and Barton Malow proposed $20.1 million in architecture and engineering design fees and $546,000 in pre-construction fees. Both figures were the lowest in the process. The partnership also had the lowest fee for overhead and profit (2.3%). The next lowest was 3.95%.
Populous and Barton Malow also expect to have 25% of the project go to businesses owned by women, minorities or veterans. That exceeds USF’s goal (13-20%).
Fans looking for new renderings or specific ideas won’t find much in the proposals. Rather, the 170 combined pages look more like detailed business resumes and are peppered with certifications, letters from insurance companies and organization charts.
“Our commitment to the University of South Florida is to deliver the best resources for your On Campus Stadium Project,” the Barton Malow/Populous pitch reads. “This team will be … led by expert designers and builders who will leverage their experience delivering similar facilities to create a one-of-a-kind, uniquely USF stadium.”
Their experience is extensive. In the past five years, Barton Malow has built $1 billion in Florida sports venues, completing spring training complexes for the Braves, Tigers and Mets and renovating Daytona International Speedway and Orlando’s Camping World Stadium. Populous bills one of its team members as the only architect to design three new college football stadiums (Colorado State, Baylor and Minnesota).
Populous and another firm in the proposal, Tampa’s R.R. Simmons, did a wave of upgrades at USF a dozen years ago that included new stadiums for baseball, softball and soccer. Add in another partner, Tampa’s DuCon Construction, and the proposal touts $2 billion in Tampa Bay construction projects in the last decade.
“Our proposal is tailored to deliver a defining piece of USF’s future that unites its fan base, while attracting recruits and providing world-class facilities for student-athletes to train, compete, and grow,” Barton Malow project executive Len Moser wrote in the group’s letter of interest.
The Bulls have not detailed how they intend to pay for the nine-figure stadium, but board of trustees chairperson Will Weatherford said USF will “get really creative.” Populous said it uses research on fan behavior to “create spaces that produce a high return on investment at every price point” and that its other stadiums have led to record donations, increased sponsorships and “year-round revenue.”
USF is expected to finish negotiating with Populous and Barton Malow in the next week or two, subject to approval from the board of trustees. The design phase — expected to last 12-18 months — will begin after that.
The Bulls intend to move from Raymond James Stadium to campus for the start of the 2026 season.
Times staff writer Jay Cridlin contributed to this report.
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