When USF and MOSI announced their partnership back in January, more than one person in a position to know told me some form of the following:
"MOSI is where the on-campus stadium is going. Book it."
Well now those presuppositions seem to be more and more possible. Last night at a Hillsborough County Commission meeting the issue of possibly moving the Museum of Science and Industry to Jeff Vinik's downtown redevelopment project was openly discussed in a public forum. And Commissioner Ken Hagan seems to be opposed while Commissioner (and USF alum) Victor Crist was in favor. The choice quotes:
"I know how special it is to have a stadium on campus, and I fully support looking for ways to have that occur but let's not put the cart in front of the horse," Hagan said. "In my opinion, their performance and attendance must drastically improve before we can seriously talk about a stadium."
"I'm fearful there's already a player moving on developing the MOSI property," Hagan said. "This is a long-term play that will take several years of due diligence and construction should it ultimately occur."
"As far as athletics, well, that's not my venue, but one thing I do know is Mr. Hagan, you've been pushing for baseball, and frankly they haven't filled their seats, either," said Crist, a USF alumnus. "So the argument that USF football has empty seats I think is an unfounded one."
"For the university to look at the properties around their borders is not an unreasonable thing to do," Crist said. "Whether MOSI is a viable site or not the future will tell but I think it's within the purview of the university to exercise their options."
Hillsborough County owns the 80 acres of land on which MOSI sits, and would have total control over what is done with the property should the museum choose to relocate. There is already a pedestrian bridge that hovers over Fowler Avenue connecting the campus to the museum, and 80 acres is plenty of space to build a world-class facility that will still have plenty of room for parking.
These things tend to be negotiated behind closed doors, but what we're hearing is that USF would love to build there, and moving MOSI downtown seems like a win-win for everyone. MOSI gets more visitors, Vinik's redevelopment project gets an anchor tenant that's appealing to tourists, and USF gets space to build the stadium they've coveted since no one brought a kicking tee to Houlihan's Stadium for the inaugural football game in 1997.
If you're thinking about accessibility to mass transit down the line too, keep in mind MOSI's property also is attached to a rail right-of-way that extends all the way to Pasco County. If mass transit in Tampa ever does happen, this piece of land would be particularly suited to keeping Fowler & 50th from being a traffic nightmare on game days.
If this were to happen, the following parties would need to approve:
Jeff Vinik (of course)
The MOSI Board of Trustees (very on board)
The Hillsborough County Commission (seems to have majority support if it's a fair & good deal)
If you're curious, the County Commission has three UF grads (Ken Hagan, Stacy White, Al Higginbotham), two USF grads (Victor Crist, former USF student body president Les Miller), and two Indiana grads (Sandy Murman, Kevin Beckner... weird, right?).
There are of course hundreds of bureaucratic and legal hurdles that would need to be cleared for something like this to happen, and how a USF stadium would be financed can be broached at another time. But MOSI seems to be the long-term vision of where those in charge at USF would like to stake their claim.
* * * * *
A stadium would be an additional phase of other major campus renovations that are already forthcoming. The Andros area is getting a complete makeover with new residential and retail space, and we've also learned that discussions with Publix about an on-campus grocery store have already taken place.
Buffalo chicken subs on campus? YES PLEASE MAKE THIS HAPPEN!!
But the administration has to keep the Andros name: The best USF song ever demands it.