USF Receives Eight Proposals To Develop Forest Preserve

Jun 3, 2021
Originally published on July 20, 2021 2:11 pm

The University of South Florida has received eight different approaches to develop its forest preserve, with proposals that range from affordable housing to a football stadium.

In April, the university released a controversial request for information about how the 769-acre plot of land just north of the Tampa campus could be used to generate revenue.

Responses from developers included multiphase plans to build housing, retail shopping, restaurants and hotels on the preserve. Some mentioned all of those things plus features like a large research facility or a 30,000-seat football stadium. Despite the plans being very preliminary, the university immediately shot down the idea of a new home for the USF Bulls.

“Regardless of what is suggested in any response, USF is not interested in pursuing a football stadium on this location or as part of this process,” a USF statement said.

One group envisioned a “specialized tech space” and an incubator for startups. It also proposed affordable family housing for graduate and doctoral students. Another recommended making the site a new location for the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) surrounded by eco-friendly academic spaces, residence halls, and nature trails.

The Hillsborough County Commission proposed a different idea: permanent preservation of the land.

"We urge you to permanently preserve this state-owned land. If this critical environmental site should ever be offered for development, the county would request the opportunity to discuss options for a joint county and state plan to preserve the property,” a letter submitted from Hillsborough County Commissioner Pat Kemp stated.

The plans come after protests from students and faculty who use the land as an outdoor classroom and research space. It also includes federally-protected wetlands, indigenous burial sites, and endangered species.

In the coming weeks, USF leadership will name an advisory committee to review the proposals. According to the first page of the response packet released last Friday, the committee will include both faculty and student representation.

“The advisory committee will discuss criteria to evaluate the highest and best use of the property, or pieces of the property, which could include simply retaining its current use,” the document stated. “As shared previously, the university recognizes the land has significant value in support of research and academic opportunities and that portions of the property have cultural significance to indigenous peoples.”

After evaluating the submissions, the advisory committee will provide recommendations to USF President Steven Currall. He will then decide whether to advance to a more formalized “request-for-proposals” stage that would include a more competitive submission process.

Final decisions on how the land would be developed will be made by Currall and subject to approval by the USF Board of Trustees.

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