Sep 12, 2023 - News

USF Bulls $340 million stadium finance plan clears final hurdle

A rendering showing a found football stadium along with several buildings and trees. Several green Us with bullhorns are scattered over the rendering to represent the University of South Florida's athletics logo.

A rendering of the stadium and athletics facilities. Photo: University of South Florida

The University of South Florida's plan to spend $340 million on an on-campus stadium cleared its final hurdle last week, paving the way for what college officials say will be a transformational project set to open in 2026.

Driving the news: During a recent meeting, the Board of Governors, which oversees Florida's 12 public universities, unanimously approved the 35,000-seat stadium's spending plan, which allows the university to borrow up to $200 million.

Why it matters: University leaders say the facility will be easier for students to get to, help football recruitment and possibly move the Bulls into a major conference, according to the Associated Press.

  • Along with providing a home for the football team, it will also host the school's women's lacrosse team and provide venue space for concerts and other community events.

Catch up fast: The Bulls currently play football games at Raymond James Stadium, about 12 miles from USF's main campus in northeast Tampa. The stadium opened in 1998 as the home for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

  • USF games have drawn large crowds but rarely fill even half of its 75,000 seats, the AP reported. The university also has no control over concessions and parking sales.

What they're saying: "Bulls Nation deserves to have a stadium on USF's campus. Our time has come," USF Board of Trustees chair Will Weatherford said in a news release. "Our 50,000 students, our alumni, faculty, staff, and our greater community all deserve the benefits that come with a stadium on our campus."

  • The new stadium would be built in an area known as Sycamore Fields, north of the university's indoor practice facility on the east side of campus.

Yes, but: The approval comes after a state finance official expressed doubts about the efficacy of the spending plan. The state's director of bond finance, J. Ben Watkins, wrote in an August memo that the university's revenue projections for the project were "arguably ambitious."

  • University officials revised the plan ahead of last week's meeting, the Tampa Bay Business Journal reported. Watkins said the revisions "highlight the uncertainty of future financial performance."
  • Should USF fail to meet the projections, the USF Foundation would have to pay the tab, or the athletics department would have to make budget cuts, per the Journal.

Plus: Some students and faculty also have concerns about the spending plan and how taking on millions of dollars in debt could impact academics down the road.

  • "USF is constantly gouging students for money," USF student Emilio Laporte told Axios. "So the fact that they're spending hundreds of millions of dollars for a stadium is ridiculous."

What they're saying: "I'm sure the first year that this stadium opens, it will be packed and people will be excited. But if the teams don't do as well as they hope, then will people still keep going?" said Faculty Senate vice president Brian Connolly, according to the USF Oracle. "I feel like we're getting a very optimistic sense of it, and then in the long term it can have effects on the academic side of things."

By the numbers: Along with the $200 million loan, financing for the project will come from sources including USF's capital improvement trust fund and $50 million in gifts, $40 million of which has already been raised, the university said.

  • The day before the Board of Governors vote, Tampa General Hospital donated $25 million toward the project. Hospital CEO John Couris is a USF alumnus.

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