USF’s proposed on-campus football stadium cleared another hurdle Friday when the State University System Board of Governors approved the school’s plan to borrow up to $200 million for the $340 million project.
The unanimous authorization took place during Friday’s virtual meeting, two years to the day after USF board of trustees chairperson Will Weatherford publicly declared the time for an on-campus stadium had finally arrived.
“An on-campus stadium will lift the University of South Florida to new heights, creating a brighter future for our university, our students and the entire Tampa Bay region,” USF president Rhea Law said in a statement after the vote. “We are grateful for the support of the Board of Governors as we move forward with our plans for a transformational stadium that will take our university to the next level.”
The plan is to open a 35,000-seat stadium north of the practice facilities for the 2026 season. USF also plans to pay for the project with $50 million in donations through fundraising from the private USF Foundation, $31 million through students’ capital improvement trust fund and $59 million from other university sources, such as the sale of broadband equipment.
Before the meeting, a pair of memos from the director of the state’s Division of Bond Finance that scrutinized the financial proposal were presented. J. Ben Watkins III wrote in August that USF’s plan included “arguably ambitious projections” on items such as ticket sales and conference payouts. Watkins said that assumed ticket revenues “far exceed” consultants’ estimates.
In a memo this week, Watkins wrote that if athletic revenue has “any negative operating performance” or doesn’t meet its fundraising goals, that “will likely necessitate budget cuts for athletics or require additional subsidies from unrestricted funds from the USF endowment.”
No such objections came up during the Board of Governors’ facilities committee meeting or the meeting with the full board.
The expected interest rate has risen since USF’s trustees approved the plan in June, from 5.5% to 7%. Kevin Pichard, the Board of Governors’ director of finance and facilities, said USF’s latest income projections cover that difference. The school’s initial estimates were overly conservative and didn’t include all new revenue streams, Pichard said during the committee meeting.
Weatherford gave his “personal commitment that we will not enter into any financial commitment that puts this university’s financial integrity at risk.” He also described the stadium as vital to the athletic department’s future in conference realignment after three of the USF’s American Athletic Conference peers — UCF, Houston and Cincinnati — left for the Big 12. A fourth, SMU, will join the ACC next year.
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“It’s no coincidence that every one of these universities also made a significant investment in their athletic facilities, either through a new stadium or making tremendous renovations to their existing one,” Weatherford said. “The consensus is that the conference realignment will continue. It’s critically important for us to make investments now so that the university can position itself for the future.”
Friday’s development came a day after USF announced a $25 million contribution, the largest in school history, from Tampa General Hospital for an operations center adjacent to the stadium. That center will include clinical space for the hospital and provide the daily homes for the football and women’s lacrosse teams.
The stadium project remains in a design phase led by architecture firm Populous and construction company Barton Malow. USF’s trustees are expected to approve a final price tag next year.
FSU football stadium update
Florida State’s board of trustees heard a presentation but did not vote on a proposal to borrow $255 million for renovating Doak Campbell Stadium. The school plans to overhaul the west seats and the south end zone in what board chairperson Peter Collins called “one of the biggest undertakings we’ve taken in athletics” in decades.
FSU plans to add a field-level club area and remodel the club area in the south end zone, which, athletic director Michael Alford said, has never sold more than 51% of its 5,400 seats. The school wants to offer different options there, including ledge and loge seating.
The west side would be updated with club options and roomier seats. If the project is approved, FSU will remove those seats and use temporary options for the 2024 season until construction finishes before kickoff in ‘25.
The board is expected to vote on the project before the board of governors’ Nov. 8-9 meeting.
Contact Matt Baker at email@example.com. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.
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