SBJ/March 7-13, 2011/Facilities

Growing season: New facilities springing up at South Florida

Don Muret
The University of South Florida’s sports facilities are quickly making the leap from worst toward first in the Big East Conference.

In an aggressive push to compete for recruits with the league’s 15 other members and the strong college baseball programs in Florida, the Tampa institution has invested $33.5 million to build new venues this year for football, basketball, baseball, softball and soccer.

The new baseball and softball stadiums opened the final weekend in February to rave reviews from donors and former USF players, said Bill McGillis, South Florida’s senior associate athletic director. Construction costs were $6 million and $4.2 million, respectively.

USF
JASON ROBERTS / USF
A new $4.2 million softball stadium is among the USF sports facilities making their debut.
Both buildings are connected to a 30-foot observation deck where fans can watch games on both fields. The deck has roof cover with one row of permanent seats and tables with bar stools to accommodate up to 150 people. The school can play host to alumni outings for games and rent the space for special events. Ceiling fans accentuate an open, breezy space, McGillis said.

In addition, each ballpark has two hospitality pavilions at concourse level that can hold up to 75 people. The baseball facility has about 1,600 chairback seats between the dugouts and a capacity of 3,211. The softball venue is about half that size and has 800 chairback seats.

Capturion Network, a scoreboard maker near Hattiesburg, Miss., produced the video screens for each facility at a combined cost of about $800,000, McGillis said. Both boards have the flexibility to be used for movie nights on campus.

The football practice facility was to open last Thursday for the first day of spring drills. There are three full fields, two with grass surfaces and one laid down with FieldTurf. A fourth, 50-yard FieldTurf surface is designed for pro day combine-style activities.

The soccer stadium will open in April. The team benches form the first row of the facility’s 2,000 permanent seats, a design similar to some of the new Major League Soccer facilities where fans can reach out and touch the players, McGillis said.

A $9.5 million basketball practice facility will open in May or June with separate gyms for the men’s and women’s programs.

The athletic department is waiting for the school’s board of trustees and the state’s board of governors to approve financing this month for a $35 million upgrade of the 30-year-old Sun Dome.

The arena renovation includes building an event-level club for students only on the facility’s west end, a design element USF officials think is unique in college hoops. The 2,500-square-foot space would be open for pregame, halftime and postgame and most likely be alcohol-free, McGillis said.

Men’s basketball attendance averaged about 5,000 last season, and that included about 500 students. The club is part of an effort to improve student attendance and help set the tone for the entire building, McGillis said.

Favorable market conditions for labor and material prices drove South Florida’s decision to build the five facilities at the same time.

“If we had done this 24 months earlier or later, it could have added another 25 percent in costs,” McGillis said.
Populous is the design architect for all USF projects.

KING CONNECTION: The renovation of Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, Fla., spring home of the Baltimore Orioles, provided the first opportunity for developer Janet Marie Smith and architect David Schwarz to work together on a project, but it wasn’t the first time their paths have crossed.

They met on “Larry King Live” on CNN in the early 1990s. Schwarz had completed work on The Ballpark at Arlington, now Rangers Ballpark. Smith had overseen the planning of Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore. King had both on his program to talk about trends in ballpark development.

“We’ve been around each other for more than 15 years,” Schwarz said.

Don Muret can be reached at dmuret@sportsbusinessjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @breakground.

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