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Soccer stadium in Hillsborough is group's goal

TAMPA — A group of private investors is looking to build an up-to-10,000-seat stadium in Hillsborough County that would be home to a professional soccer team and play host to other sporting events.

A formal announcement of the project is expected in coming days, said Lisa Brock, a spokeswoman for the investor-owner group, which she said includes local and out-of-town people.

Brock said the stadium would be home to a team from the United Soccer Leagues' First Division, which is its highest professional level. Tampa is the USL headquarters.

A representative of the league would not confirm whether Tampa has been selected for a soccer franchise and would not discuss the stadium plans.

"I can say that we have been and are actively working to help bring a USL professional soccer team back to the area," said Tim Holt, vice president and chief operating office for the league. "The area has a great history of supporting professional soccer. One of the biggest challenges is the lack of an existing, proper stadium."

Tampa has been home to both the Tampa Bay Rowdies of the North American Soccer League and the Tampa Bay Mutiny of Major League Soccer, the latter of which folded six years ago. But the teams played at Raymond James and Tampa stadiums, which had overly large seating capacities and where they could not collect money from concessions and parking.

The USL First Division has 11 teams, and the league has a requirement that the stadiums where its teams play have at least 5,000 seats. The teams play from April to October.

Brock said the group has a site for the stadium in northwestern Tampa.

However, Vin Marchetti, a lawyer representing the group who also sits on the Tampa Sports Authority, said several locations are being considered.

Marchetti said the group has paid for engineering and design work on what he described as a 6,000- to 10,000-seat stadium that could be built in phases.

He wouldn't confirm that a USL franchise will come with the stadium, but "the quality of the stadium would be suitable for professional as well as amateur events," Marchetti said.

The disclosure comes a day after Hillsborough County commissioners gave a preliminary nod to building a $15-million park complex of up to 30 soccer fields that could be used for amateur tournaments.

Commissioner Jim Norman initially proposed building a larger complex with a stadium for $40-million he said would generate enough money in rentals and sponsorships to pay for other park costs.

Critics said if the project was such a good idea someone in the private sector would be doing it and his fellow commissioners ultimately rejected it.

Norman said the new, privately funded stadium proposal could complement a public sports complex if it ultimately wins commission approval.

The sports complex could attract tournaments that include dozens if not hundreds of teams competing in soccer, lacrosse and other sports.

The victors could then play their championship games at the stadium.

Norman said he believes the Tampa Sports Commission, which lures other amateur sports events to the area, could serve as a booking agent for the stadium to keep it full when soccer is not played there.

Soccer players also could have camps and other events with children at the public complex.

But he said he will reserve judgment on the proposal until more of the details are disclosed.

Bill Varian can be reached at varian@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3387.

Soccer stadium in Hillsborough is group's goal 06/18/08 [Last modified: Monday, June 23, 2008 1:37pm]
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