Leaders at the University of South Florida think redevelopment of the university’s golf course could revitalize the area in significant ways. And they cited a couple of multi-billion-dollar local projects as examples of what could be in store.

Naming developments like Water Street Tampa and Midtown Tampa, “which created vibrant destinations in previously underutilized areas,” USF vice president for facilities Carole Post told members of the university’s board of trustees Tuesday that they could expect a similar transformation.

“We think USF has a similar opportunity with this site, and the ability to help reimagine the entire university area,” she said.

The 120-acre Claw at USF golf course, which shuttered last year to the public after losing money, is adjacent to — but not part of — the university’s Forest Preserve, a 769-acre parcel of land home to hundreds of plant and animal species that elicited controversy when the university sought to develop it in 2021. Members of the president’s 2022 Forest Preserve Task Force that ultimately decided not to develop it have been involved, Post said, along with 200 others, including faculty, students and community members.

The university cannot sell the land and must develop it in a way that supports its mission, Post said. Real estate and development services firms Cushman and Wakefield and Brailsford and Dunlavey are assisting with the public-private partnership.

While ideas for development include retail and dining options, housing and green spaces, the project is still in early phases and the university is still seeking prospective developers until July.

“We’ve heard from students, faculty, staff, alumni and visitors that USF is missing a place within walking distance of campus to live, work and play, especially on nights and weekends,” Post said. “Our hope is that this project can fill that void by providing elements like housing, dining, retail and academic and research space, conference areas, as well as recreational and open spaces and other amenities.”

Water Street Tampa, a $3.5 billion revitalization project downtown, has brought new high-end dining and living and hotel spaces this decade and an estimated $520 million annual impact. Midtown Tampa, a $1 billion redevelopment project at Interstate 275 and N Dale Mabry Highway, has also brought dining, retail, hotel and housing to the area.

Mike Griffin, vice chair of the university’s board, expressed excitement over the potential for the university area, with projects like the University Mall redevelopment and an on-campus stadium underway.

“Water Street … we think about what was there previously to what is there now: it’s transformed not just the city, but the region and beyond,” Griffin said. “And I believe that this story that’s happening here is going to be greater than what we’ve seen in those in those other developments. Because this is mission-led. This is not about real estate.”

Griffin said the university would work with others in the area.

“Lives will benefit from this, and so that’s why I love where this is going, because it’s not it’s not really about the development,” he said. “It’s about transforming a entire neighborhood and part of this city that has been in desperate need of it for so long.”

Jeannie Mounger, a co-organizer of the USF Forest Preserve group who now lives in Seattle, said she’s heard concerns from community members about the impact development will have and feels the university is “hellbent on not listening to the community.”

Mounger said she’s concerned about the traffic that will be created without better transit in the community as well as the environmental impact it will have on the preserve. Deer, coyotes and bobcats have often been spotted on the golf course.

“I simply do not believe building a microcity next door is not going to harm the Forest Preserve,” she said.

Higher education reporter for The Tampa Bay Times in partnership with Open Campus.