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Neighbors still oppose Rowdies stadium

TOWN 'N COUNTRY — The Tampa Bay Rowdies offered new concessions this week to soften community opposition to their proposed minor league soccer stadium.

It didn't work.

"Please, I beg you. Put this stadium somewhere else," said Amy James, who lives on Gardner Court Drive next to the stadium site at the Veterans Expressway and Waters Avenue.

James and residents of Twelve Oaks, a neighborhood about a mile to the west, were unmoved by the team's proposal to:

• Shut off stadium lights within 90 minutes after games end, hire an expert to keep glare out of surrounding neighborhoods and limit the height of the light poles to 100 feet. (County rules would allow 110-foot-tall poles.)

• Turn off amplified music by 11 p.m. at any nonsporting event held at the stadium.

• Funnel stadium traffic away from Benjamin Road, which leads to Barry Road, which leads to Twelve Oaks. Cut-through traffic on Barry is bad enough that the neighborhood pays off-duty Florida Highway Patrol troopers to patrol it for speeders.

During a zoning hearing Monday night, supporters touted the 15.3-acre site as an ideal spot.

"We believe the Veterans Expressway is a very good buffer between us … and the residential area to the west," said Kevin Mineer, a planning consultant for the team.

Moreover, supporters said, major roads would provide ready access for soccer fans coming from as far away as Hernando, Polk and Manatee counties.

Twelve Oaks residents were not convinced.

Bolstered by an analysis from their own traffic engineer, they questioned whether the stadium's reliance on using parking spaces at nearby businesses could create unsafe traffic conditions.

Fans would cross busy roads on their way to games, they said, and the team's efforts to discourage traffic leaving the stadium from going south on Benjamin would not affect fans who park in remote lots.

"It's going to create some severe congestion, in my opinion, that hasn't been addressed," said Michael Raysor, the traffic engineer hired by Twelve Oaks.

Zoning hearing master Steve Luce will consider both sides' evidence before making a recommendation to the Hillsborough County Commission, which will consider the project Dec. 9.

Executives for the Rowdies propose to build and finance the 5,000-seat stadium privately, leaving room to add nearly 5,000 more seats later.

The team would play about 15 home games a year, more if it made the playoffs. The Rowdies plan to begin play in April 2010 as part of the United Soccer Leagues, which fields teams throughout the United States.

But Twelve Oaks residents worry that the stadium would host concerts as well as games.

A concert could attract a lot more than 5,000 fans because promoters could put at least 4,000 additional seats on the field, said resident Bret Hart, who works as senior vice president of live events for World Wrestling Entertainment.

Hart said neighbors on Gardner Court Drive would have to contend with a three-hour process to break down and pack up the stage after concerts.

Citing the St. Pete Times Forum, where there are a lot more concerts and other events than hockey games, Hart predicted that the stadium wouldn't be used just for soccer. "The only way to make a stadium viable is to have other events," he said.

Rowdies president Andrew Nestor said the team simply wants to make the stadium viable for the entire community.

"We've worked with (Twelve Oaks residents) to make a lot of changes" since meeting with the neighborhood last week, he said.

Richard Danielson can be reached at Danielson@sptimes.com or (813) 269-5311.

Neighbors still oppose Rowdies stadium 10/30/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 30, 2008 4:30am]
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