TAMPA — USF is closer than ever to getting an on-campus football stadium after its board of trustees Tuesday agreed to spend up to $22 million designing a 35,000-seat home for the Bulls.
The unanimous vote happened without debate, discussion or even a formal presentation; that all took place at last month’s finance committee meeting. But the anticlimactic decision on a consent-agenda item should not diminish the significance of an eight-figure expense on a project that has been discussed longer than the school has existed.
“It’s a great first step in our process,” said USF Foundation CEO Jay Stroman, a co-chairperson of the stadium planning committee.
The next immediate step is easy. USF will finalize a contract with the design-build team of Populous and Barton Malow, who were recommended to the board in September. Then the formal design stage will begin.
Stroman said Populous will meet with students, alumni, community members and other stakeholders over the next month to learn what elements they want and need in the facility. The conversations do not have to be limited to sports. Perhaps campus officials ask to incorporate the school’s hospitality management program into the stadium, as one example.
Some of those discussions started months ago in the athletic department. First-year coach Alex Golesh said he has had three meetings about things like which way the building will face, fan experience and the football operations center expected to be built into or adjacent to the stadium.
Populous will hear all the ideas, design some of them and price them out over the next 10 months or so. As those plans take shape, USF will finalize answers to its two biggest unknowns: how much it can afford and where the money will come from. USF has not set a budget, though board chairperson Will Weatherford described it last month as a “multi-hundred-million-dollar stadium.”
“Because when we come back (to the board), we want to have the blueprint, what the stadium looks like,” Stroman said. “We also need to have the cost and then, obviously, how we’re going to afford to do that.”
The costs approved Tuesday include no state or student funds. Instead, donations, investment earnings and the sale of former TV-related assets will pay for the design.
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The $22 million includes:
• $14.8 million for design and preconstruction
• $3.9 million for other planning, like land surveys, geological studies and parking
• $2.3 million for design contingencies in case USF asks for something unexpected (like space for the hospitality management program, potentially)
• $850,000 for financing
The tentative agreement with Populous and Barton Malow lets USF pause the project, end it or hire new companies at the end of the design phase. The Bulls aim to move from Raymond James Stadium to their new building in 2026, and the deal calls for USF to receive $2 million for every home game that season in which the new stadium isn’t available.
Golesh said he is pushing for the football operations center — a building that houses things like locker rooms, office space and training areas — to be ready even sooner.
“I do keep saying just throw a crane out there and start swinging it around,” Golesh said.
Realistically, cranes won’t be swinging at Sycamore Fields — the site just north of the team’s current practice fields — for months. But the idea looks closer now than ever after a drama-free meeting that featured only one comment about the stadium.
“Let’s get this thing over with, man,” supporter Joe Robinson told the board during public comments. “Quit playing with it.”
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