After more than six decades of discussion, the University of South Florida’s planned football stadium on campus has finally received its ultimate approval. The Florida Board of Governors gave unanimous consent to USF’s construction financing plan, a pivotal step for this approximately $340 million project.
USF’s financing strategy involves a $200 million bank loan with a projected interest rate of up to 7%. Due to interest rate increases since the project’s inception, USF might face a potential payment of nearly $400 million over 20 years. The final interest rate has yet to be determined.
Anticipating a groundbreaking ceremony in 2024, the university plans to unveil the stadium in time for the 2026 football season. This marks a significant transition for the program as it bids farewell to Raymond James Stadium, which has been its home for nearly three decades.
“It’s a big project, it’s a complex project, and it’s a first for USF,” Kevin Pichard, director of the state university system’s finance and facilities division, said during a virtual meeting.
The board of governors’ vote came shortly after a state finance official issued caution regarding potential issues with USF’s stadium financing plan. Just a day prior, USF Athletics had unveiled its largest-ever donation, which will contribute to the stadium’s funding. Ben Watkins, a director appointed by the governor to oversee the Florida Division of Bond Finance, expressed reservations in a memo, suggesting that USF’s revenue projections might be overly optimistic. He warned that if these projections fall short, the athletic department might need to make budget cuts.
Mike Griffin, the vice chair of the USF Board of Trustees, emphasized in June that the stadium’s construction should not impact academic operations. Meanwhile, Will Weatherford, chairman of the USF board, acknowledged the debt risks associated with the project but asserted its long-term benefits. Weatherford contended that the stadium would serve as a powerful recruitment tool and contribute to the economic growth of the Tampa Bay region.
“I’ve always enjoyed a quote from the great Victor Hugo who once said, ‘There’s nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.’ It is our board and our university leadership who see that the time has come,” Weatherford said.
Truist Bank emerged as the lender of choice for USF’s $200 million loan through a competitive bidding process. The transaction is scheduled to conclude around mid-October, with the finalization of the interest rate. Will Weatherford anticipates that the interest rate will likely land closer to 6% than 7%, based on discussions with Truist. The 7% assumed rate is intentionally set on the higher side as a precautionary measure. Additionally, USF has already secured $40 million in philanthropic contributions for the stadium project, as per Weatherford.
The stadium, designed to accommodate approximately 35,000 spectators, will be situated on the current Sycamore recreational fields. Populous is tasked with designing the project, while Barton Malow will handle its construction. The USF Board of Trustees granted approval for $22 million toward the design phase in March and gave the green light for the $200 million debt package in June.
Conversations surrounding a stadium for USF date back to the 1950s, a concept that predates the university’s formal establishment.
“In addition to having a tremendous impact on the Bulls football program, the new on-campus stadium will provide a unique, vibrant, shared campus experience that will contribute to the culture, spirit and connectedness of the university, not just during fall football games but throughout the year,” the university wrote in an agenda earlier this year. “It will be a place where incredible memories are built across generations that reminds us why USF is so great and stirs our passion for the university.”