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On-campus stadium task force looking into adding student fee

If approved by the Student Government Supreme Court, a referendum that asks students if they are open to paying an extra fee for an on-campus football stadium will be on the midterm ballot. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE

A recently created Student Government (SG) task force — dedicated to the research and outreach of an on-campus football stadium — spearheaded the creation of a referendum that will possibly be added to student’s midterm election ballots.

Already approved by SG Senate, if the referendum is also approved by the SG Supreme Court, it will ask students if they want to pay a $6 to $9 per-credit-hour fee to help finance the stadium, whose exact site is yet to be determined. The Court has four more business days to approve it.

If a student took 15 credit hours every fall and spring semester for four years, that would add an additional total cost of $720 to $1,080, if the fee was approved.

Senate President Pro-Tempore and task force member Yousef Afifi said that it is unrealistic for the stadium to be built without a fee increase of some kind. However, the task force is looking into the possibility of decreasing other fees students pay — though those potential fee deductions haven’t been determined yet.

“Now it’s up to us to decide, do we want to impose that on ourselves, do we want to place that fee on ourselves voluntarily, thus giving a control and a major stake in the initiative itself,” Afifi said. “Or do we want to have it put on us without us having a seat at the table in determining what we’ll get in return for it? That’s a question that people should think about.”

According to Afifi, the task force aims to also bring administrators to the table, including Facilities Management and Athletics.   

“While the USF administration is definitely working on this initiative, they’re not moving as fast as we are because they also have other priorities,” Afifi said. “So we’re kind of headed down a path through this stadium initiative. We’re headed down our own path for the stadium. (Administration is) headed down their path, and so, they can’t run parallel anymore, they have to merge at some point.”

According to task force members, top administrators are eager to collect more student feedback through the task force and are informed of the work it’s doing.

However, Adam Freeman, a university spokesman, wrote in an email to The Oracle that USF’s current goal is not the stadium and that was emphasized when it released a market and financial feasibility study over the summer.

“It was made clear at that time from the leadership at USF Athletics, and on the university side, that the priority at this time is the Football Center, not a stadium,” Freeman wrote.

The proposed Football Center will cost about $40 million, according to the USF Football Center’s website. The feasibility study found that the football stadium will cost anywhere from $120 million to $240 million, depending on the quality of the stadium that is built.

Afifi said that he is working on a proposal for a fundraising campaign using one modeled by the University of Houston (UH) to aid in the building of its stadium as a blueprint.

UH built a stadium in 2014 that was used in USF’s feasibility study as a tier-two comparable model for a 35,000-seat stadium, costing about $150 million. It imposed a $45-per-semester student fee over 25 years, according to the study.

The tier-one comparable model was Colorado State’s stadium, costing $240 million. The tier-three model was Florida Atlantic University’s stadium, costing $120 million. Both of these universities did not charge any additional student fees.

According to the study, USF can fully fund a $120 million stadium without additional funding mechanisms, aside from capital gift-revenue from per-seat capital requirements on scholarship and premium seating, private donations and debt based on revenues generated by the stadium.

Student Body President Moneer Kheireddine said that the referendum is only intended to get a feel for whether the majority of students support an increase in fees to build this stadium.

“The big piece we’re doing right now is one of the very first steps, which is gathering student input and student data on what students want to see,” Kheireddine said. “Before we can even go down the line of potentially following all the steps to submit a fee increase, there’s a lot of things that have to fall into place first.”

Typically, there is low voter turnout in SG elections, bringing into question how representative the results of this possible referendum would be. Last spring, 10.1 percent of students showed up to the polls for the general election, a decrease from the 17.4 percent that voted the year prior.

“Anyone that we’ve spoken to has expressed a want to have that data and information, and if we can gather that, even if we can have a small piece of what that looks like, even if it’s only a couple thousand students,” Kheireddine said. “That’s still a really good opportunity to see what kind of focus they want Student Government and the university to start taking in the future.”

Voting begins on Oct. 9 and the referendum itself will not be marketed to the student body until it is approved by the SG Supreme Court. However, SG has done word-of-mouth marketing and tabling to inform students about the stadium. Afifi said that senators have been engaging with “a collective group of hundreds of students.”

“It’s imperative for them (students) to go out and vote on this,” Afifi said. “It’s imperative for them to go out and let their voices be heard, because we can’t have a clear picture unless we have clear data and a large frequency of respondents that can tell us where to move forward with, or how to move forward, with this initiative.