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MOSI and a Potential USF On-Campus Stadium: What We Know So Far

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MOSI's board officially opened up the can of worms this week. Here's what we can divine so far.

The board of the Museum of Science and Industry indicated on Tuesday that they'll work to engineer a move to downtown Tampa to be a part of Jeff Vinik's redevelopment plan of the entire core of the city.

It will take several years before the U-Hauls start heading down I-275, but it also means 80+ acres across the street from USF, connected by a pedestrian bridge over Fowler Avenue, will be available for whatever the Hillsborough County Commission wants to put there. Be it a technology park, a large retail/entertainment space... or the long-anticipated on-campus football stadium for the USF Bulls.

Over the last week I've talked to several USF employees as well as many people that would be involved in the process, and the basic consensus is that USF would love to build on MOSI's footprint, but they need to find a way to make the money work. Other considerations include:

  • There is a potential lawsuit to block MOSI's move, but according to everyone except the plaintiff it seems very unlikely to succeed.
  • Building an on-campus stadium will require a very significant philanthropic investment (one that many aren't sure is feasible), some Capital Improvement Trust Fund dollars, an increase in the USF student athletics fee (or a separate fee for the stadium similar to the Marshall Center Use Fee or the Health Fee or the Transportation Fee), a long-term agreement regarding naming rights to the facility, and likely a public-private partnership similar to that of the Student Housing Village currently under construction.
  • Any stadium project likely wouldn't be just a standalone place to play football. It would be a project that would combine retail, student housing, lab and technology space, office space, and classrooms. This would provide the revenue streams needed to get a bond issued to cover a large portion of construction costs. Only certain future revenue streams can be bonded against (i.e. student fees and pouring rights can, future ticket sales can't), so there has to be enough guaranteed revenue to make the investment work.
  • A bond issue paid for the Sun Dome renovations in 2011-12, and it's fair to say revenues there have underperformed the projections that paid for the bond. That gives pause to some about beginning a much bigger project. But if most of the risk can be laid off on a private backer that's willing to underwrite costs, a massive hurdle would be cleared. A very basic summary of the initial concerns of some Hillsborough County Commissioners can be found in this piece we wrote last year.
  • MOSI certainly isn't the only potential property available to USF. The long-rumored University Mall takeover could still happen, because recent renovations clearly aren't helping business. There have been some rumblings about turning the mall into a jai alai fronton, but right now the mall isn't creating nearly the economic impact a plot of developed land of that size in that location should generate. USF also owns tons of land across Fletcher Avenue (see Page 2 here to see USF's domain across the street); however, any construction in that area would require creating additional green space to replace what would be lost, and that would need to be bought from somewhere. There is also still some space that might be feasible closer to the Athletics District on campus.

One thing that was consistent among everyone we've talked to is that if USF is going to compete at its desired athletic and academic levels, an on-campus stadium must happen. Losing the BCS/Power 5 affiliation set the athletic program back decades, and realigning to a better league is vital to get where the school wants to be. There's unanimity across the administration, Board of Trustees, and Athletics that the status quo is not acceptable long term. Finding a path forward to a better conference is a priority.

USF's administration dropped the ball when the Big East imploded. They bet on the wrong horse, and have paid for it dearly. Making this project work could go a long way to fixing that massive mistake.