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USF nears a decision on a football stadium location and receives a $5M donation

grass field with trees in the background
Victoria Crosdale
WUSF Public Media
A committee has recommended a site on the USF Tampa campus that currently houses athletic fields for a new football stadium.

Officials also announced at Tuesday's Board of Trustees meeting that USF will hold town halls for the two presidential finalists the week of March 21.

The next generation of University of South Florida Bulls may be able to walk to games from their residence halls.

A committee has recommended that USF’s long-hoped for football stadium be built on the northeast side of the Tampa campus.

Officials told Tuesday’s Board of Trustee meeting why the current home of recreation fields is the best of the five locations the committee examined.

The Sycamore Fields site is the best option because of its proximity to student housing and the university's Greek village, as well as multiple parking and tailgating options, said Michael Kelly, the Vice President of Athletics at USF.

He also pointed out that the site was where the football team held its practices during the first 10 years of the program or so.

In addition, the fields are close to other athletic facilities, like the indoor football practice facility currently under construction, as well as the tennis and track complexes.

"This site would create what I think is one of the finest athletic districts in all the country," Kelly said.

The committee will come before the board again for approval of the site.

The stadium project has also received its first substantial gift. USF Foundation CEO Jay Stroman announced that USF supporters Frank and Carol Morsani are donating $5 million to the project.

"They wanted to make this commitment so this would serve as a catalyst for other people in the Tampa Bay region to actually step forward and make lead gifts to this project too,” Stroman said. “We're excited about this commitment, still a long way to go with what it's going to take to build this stadium but I think this is a great first step."

The Morsani's, whose family name is on dozens of buildings and projects throughout the Tampa Bay area, have given millions of dollars to USF.

That includes a $3 million gift towards the Frank Morsani Football Practice Complex that opened in 2011 and a $20 million gift for the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine that opened in downtown Tampa in 2020.

“We have loved watching Bulls football for the last 25 years and are thrilled to make the first gift in support of the stadium,” Carol and Frank Morsani said in a university press release. “An on-campus stadium elevates not only our athletic programs, but our entire university. We look forward to others joining us in making a financial commitment that will help make this project a reality.”

Stroman told trustees the stadium committee is still developing the funding plan, which will include revenue bond financing, philanthropy, and other sources. They plan to return to the board by June with financing options.

He added the two potential timelines for the stadium's construction would have the project complete in time for either the 2026 or 2027 football season opening.

USF officials also said Tuesday that the next steps in the search for a new president will take place the week of March 21.

Last week, the search committee’s final two candidates, interim president Rhea Law and retired U.S. Army Lt. General and educator Jeffrey Talley, presented their visions for the job and answered questions.

The candidates will meet with the USF community on all three campuses:

9-10 a.m.

  • Sarasota-Manatee campus, Selby Auditorium: Rhea Law
  • Tampa campus, Traditions Hall, at the Gibbons Alumni Center: Jeffrey Talley

11 a.m. - noon

  • St. Petersburg campus, University Student Center Ballroom: Law
  • Sarasota-Manatee campus, Selby Auditorium: Jeffrey Talley

2-3 p.m.

  • Tampa campus, Traditions Hall, at the Gibbons Alumni Center: Law
  • St. Petersburg campus, University Student Center Ballroom: Talley

The candidates will then go through formal interviews with trustees Tuesday, March 22, at 9 a.m. in Traditions Hall, at the Gibbons Alumni Center on the Tampa campus.

The Board will evaluate the candidates and may then name the next president, subject to confirmation by the Florida Board of Governors.

President Law presented legislative updates from Tallahassee to the Board as well.

This session, the university asked for money to help build a USF Environmental and Oceanographic Sciences Research and Teaching Facility on the St. Petersburg campus. Currently, the project is set to receive $60 million, she said. The project will also require $20 million in local contributions.

“This is one of those signature programs that’s going to make a difference and really put our university at the forefront.”

USF also requested state funding for the Sarasota-Manatee campus to build a second building, specifically for nursing courses.

“They need more space,” Law said. “Literally we have to send our students out to Mote Marine Laboratory to use the laboratories. And while they’re very nice, they’re 45 minutes away. That is not efficient and that’s not effective and that’s not what we should have as a Research One university.”

Right now, the university is set to receive some money toward that project, she said.

Law also updated trustees that the North Fletcher Property Advisory Committee submitted recommendations to her office earlier this year. She noted that the golf course land can be used for potential development, but the rest of the forest preserve will be set aside for preservation and research.

The interim president added that U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, is looking for a funding source to build a research building on the Fletcher site.

“This is what was a lose-lose situation when we started, and it's now a win-win,” Law said.

Bailey LeFever is a reporter focusing on education and health in the greater Tampa Bay region.