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Mitch Perry Report for 5.8.15 — The MOSI-USF Football stadium dilemma

Hillsborough County Commissioners (and Administrator Mike Merrill) are gung-ho on having the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) explore an opportunity to move its facility into downtown Tampa.

There it could be a part of Jeff Vinik‘s grand plans to redevelop the Channelside area, even though there are serious questions about how productive such a move would be. As La Gaceta’s Patrick Manteiga noted last week, there’s the little issue about available parking in the area that has plagued the Tampa Bay History Museum. And MOSI is near Busch Gardens, which annually draws more than 4 million people, far larger than any museum in the downtown region.

Is that what “Vinikville” is going to be about? Taking properties from other parts of the city and cram them into his 40-acre piece of Shangri-La?

It’s one thing to move a USF medical building to the area (a “game-changer” in Mayor Bob Buckhorn‘s words), but one of the interesting parts of the plan — at least the way it was described in that big press conference/coronation event in December — is that there would be a mix of new businesses, clubs, restaurants and maybe retail.

MOSI now sits on 80 acres of county-owned property that the county should take its time to decide what might replace MOSI if it moves.

Some USF officials are already dreaming out loud about their fantasy for the site: a spanking new football stadium. That fits their criteria of an on-campus facility (MOSI sits across the street from the North Tampa campus on Fowler Avenue).

Luckily, County Commissioner Ken Hagan had the sense to splash some cold water and reality on that situation when it came up at Wednesday’s Board of County Commission meeting.

“I know how special it is to have a stadium on campus, and I fully support looking for ways to have that occur but let’s not put the cart in front of the horse,” Hagan said. “In my opinion, their performance and attendance must drastically improve before we can seriously talk about a stadium.”

That couldn’t be more true.

USF’s average home attendance peaked in 2008 at about 50,000 a game, when the program reached heights it never had before and sadly, hasn’t since.

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Interest has dropped alarmingly during the Skip Holtz/Willie Taggert era, with one game last year drawing fewer than 20,000 people (19,926 vs. Maryland in September).

“I’m fearful there’s already a player moving on developing the MOSI property,” Hagan said. “This is a long-term play that will take several years of due diligence and construction should it ultimately occur.”

Commission Victor Crist, who’s all USF, all the time, then chided Hagan for his unflagging enthusiasm to have the Rays find a stadium in Tampa, despite their attendance numbers are desultory as well.

“As far as athletics, well, that’s not my venue, but one thing I do know is Mr. Hagan, you’ve been pushing for baseball, and frankly they haven’t filled their seats, either,” Crist countered. “So the argument that USF football has empty seats I think is an unfounded one.”

They were both right. Neither USF, nor the Rays are coming close to filling the seats at their respective stadiums. Excuse me, I guess the idea up at USF is that they don’t actually have their “own” stadium, since they rent out Raymond James Stadium four to six times a year for their home games.

It’s not an insignificant point made by Crist about the Rays’ lackluster attendance. The conventional wisdom in this area is that the Rays will automatically draw better if they were ever to play year round in Hillsborough County. Some are skeptical about that. But it’s certainly the attitude of Rays owner Stu Sternberg.

As far as USF, Hagan is right that it’s absurd for cede that MOSI land to USF like that. That’s key real estate up there, and football stadiums are the ultimate white elephants.

And who’s going to pay for it? Maybe USF has a Phil Knight or T. Boone Pickens in its donor base, since it certainly has a lot of people these days donating money to medical and advertising programs.

Does this community think that area should be built for a USF stadium for a team that’s averaging less than 30,000 a game?

As we’ve seen with the Rays dilemma, however, it could be years before this is all sorted out.

In other news…

Social conservatives haven’t given up the fight in Florida when  it comes to the issue of same-sex adoptions. On Thursday, John Stemberger with Florida Family Action called on its members to urge Gov. Rick Scott to veto the adoption bill the Legislature passed that includes a provision repealing from the same-sex adoption ban in state statutes. Scott hasn’t said where he’s leaning on that.

• • •

Hillary Clinton‘s call for a pathway to citizenship for all undocumented immigrants in the U.S. seems to have shaken up the GOP presidential field. Meanwhile, supporters of comprehensive immigration reform like Kathy Castor are cheering Clinton on.

• • •

Although Jeb Bush leads a new poll from New Hampshire — by all of three percentage points over Marco Rubio — the big news out of it is how impressive Rubio’s numbers are in the Granite State.

• • •

A new report by American Bridge details how influential the Koch Brothers have been involved in Florida public policy over the past decade, as well as there close alliance with Bush, Rubio and Rick Scott.

• • •

And there are some significant changes regarding the Iowa Straw Poll taking place this August, but despite harsh criticism from some longtime fair-goers, it ain’t going away.

Written By

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served five years as political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. Mitch also was assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley and is a San Francisco native who has lived in Tampa since 2000. Mitch can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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