Carillon residents, businesses nervous about Tampa Bay Rays stadium plan

Robert Szasz is a deeply committed Tampa Bay Rays fan. From a seat behind home plate, he gained notoriety for taunting visiting ballplayers. People call him "the happy heckler."

But he is also a businessman. And Szasz was surprised to learn that, in a stroke of irony, a private developer's plans place the land under his restaurant inside the footprint of a possible new Rays stadium.

"It was a total blindside," said Szasz, who owns a Tropical Smoothie Café that could be razed to make way for a stadium.

Until St. Petersburg developer Darryl LeClair unveiled his vision for a baseball stadium last week, few knew the details.

The reaction from Carillon residents and businesses has been mixed, largely dominated by concern over how the megastructure would affect the area.

"It's beautiful. I like the drawings. I just don't want that stadium where they want to put it," said Dr. Ian Klein, a podiatrist who lives in Villas of Carillon, one of the area's several gated condominium complexes.

His neighbors have not met to formally discuss the stadium, Klein said, but there is widespread apprehension.

"The consensus, from speaking to my neighbors, is nobody really wants it there," he said.

Ringed by Ulmerton Road, Roosevelt Boulevard and Interstate 275, Carillon is primarily an office park. It is home to about 14,000 workers and 3,000 residents, according to CityScape, LeClair's development company.

Among Carillon's largest tenants are Raymond James, which has about 3,200 employees in its 1-million-square-foot headquarters, Franklin Templeton and Bright House Networks.

LeClair's companies control about 17.5 acres near Ulmerton Road and hope to acquire five more, including land currently occupied by a Publix, two bank branches, Courtside Grille and Szasz's cafe.

While Carillon residents are concerned about noise and traffic, Szasz and other business owners are intrigued by the idea, especially the potential to be included in the stadium's retail space.

Jim White, managing partner of the group that owns the land underneath the Publix, said he would cooperate with LeClair. Matt Geiger, a former NBA player who co-owns Courtside Grille, said he would be "more than excited to be a part of this." And Szasz, who is three years into a 15-year lease, is open to the idea of moving his cafe — for the right price.

"If they're willing to relocate us or do something about us still existing during the development, I would definitely be interested," he said.

Carillon is a sleepy place for a business owner. "Weekends are nonexistent," Szasz said.

The Publix is rarely full. CityScape estimates that after 6 p.m. on a weekday, 90 percent of the cars in the Carillon parking lots have been driven away.

For some residents, Carillon's winding roads and lack of a defined urban center are part of the appeal.

While Pinellas County Commissioner John Morroni supports keeping the Rays in the county, he is skeptical that his neighbors in Feather Sound ­— a development that borders Carillon — would back a stadium. Years ago, Feather Sound rallied against extending the runway at St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport because of noise and environmental concerns. Later, when a nightclub and restaurant called the Venue opened on Ulmerton, they became irritated over patrons' parking in front of their houses.

"If they had that problem with a bar, just think of the amount of cars that would be coming into a game over there," Morroni said.

In 2008, neighborhood opposition in St. Petersburg helped quash the Rays' vision of a $450 million waterfront stadium on land occupied by Al Lang Field. Raising similar questions about how the city would handle parking and traffic, the plan faced such opposition that the team handed out white and blue "Let's build the ballpark" yard signs.

To squeeze thousands of people into Carillon, LeClair has proposed adding three lanes to Ulmerton Road. The business park already has 14,000 parking spaces, but he would need the approval of neighboring companies, such as Raymond James, to use their lots. He has also built 4,300 spaces into his stadium design plans.

A spokesman for Raymond James said the company had no plans to weigh in on the potential stadium.

Anna M. Phillips can be reached at aphillips@tampabay.com.

Carillon residents, businesses nervous about Tampa Bay Rays stadium plan 10/03/12 [Last modified: Thursday, October 4, 2012 12:03am]

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