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You’ve likely driven past the USF Forest Preserve that borders the University of South Florida to the north of Fletcher Avenue. USF has put out a request for possible projects for that land on the Hillsborough River.

The USF Forest Preserve is an undeveloped piece of land the Hillsborough River passes through on the north side of Fletcher west of I-75. It is home to wetlands and wildlife, some of which is endangered. The Hillsborough River is also a source of water to the city of Tampa.

The Request for Information the university posted does include that it is for information only. USF might select responses from submissions for consideration, but the posting claims to have no plan to award a contract based on this Request for Information (RFI). According to Adam Freeman, spokesman for USF:

The RFI allows USF to gauge interest and obtain information to consider the best strategy for a potential project that could provide greater financial resources to support the university’s mission and benefit our students, faculty and staff. For example, funds generated annually from a ground lease on the property could be invested in an endowment that grows over time and provides new resources for USF to fund student scholarships, recruit new faculty members or support research opportunities.

A portion of the property within the forest preserve is designated as federal wetlands and includes protected species. Proposals received by the university must consider options for mitigation, protecting wildlife and preserving unique natural features of the property in order to minimize any environmental impacts.

Any potential project would have to fall within existing restrictions for the development of the property pursuant to USF’s master plan, City of Tampa codes and ordinances, and the requirements of other agencies, such as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Southwest Florida Water Management District and the Hillsborough County Environmental Protection Commission.

In a call with USF Associate Professor David Lewis, the professor said that neither he nor the steering committee for the USF Forest Preserve was given any heads-up about the plan. They were unaware the school was looking for companies to submit ideas for that property.

The land is also a living classroom for biology students. With wetlands and trails, students in the biology department have a hands-on opportunity to learn from the preserve. Biology, ecology and botany are just some of the programs that make use of the land.

USF scientists are working to stop the University from selling off a piece of the school's nature preserve to...

Posted by Lauren Rozyla on Wednesday, April 14, 2021

There is a petition on change.org to stop development of the land. When last checked, the petition had exceeded 11,000 of the 15,000 signature goal.
[Source: ABC Action News]

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