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Key county vote comes Tuesday on proposed Rowdies stadium

TAMPA — The Tampa Bay Rowdies would love to welcome busloads of soccer fans to a new 5,000-seat stadium.

But first the team has to get by at least a busload of opponents.

The Rowdies' proposal to build its new home on Waters Avenue in Town 'N Country heads to a key vote with the Hillsborough County Commission Tuesday.

The Rowdies, a minor-league revival of the phenomenally popular franchise of the 1970s and '80s, plan to begin playing in April 2010.

The team touts the stadium as a community asset that would draw fans from as far away as Hernando, Polk and Manatee counties to a family-friendly sport.

"There's a lot of benefit that comes from this," Rowdies president Andrew Nestor said.

As proposed, the stadium could be expanded to nearly 10,000 seats later and would include a store, team museum, luxury boxes and covered club seats. The 15.3-acre site is owned by restaurateur David Laxer, whose father, Bern Laxer, grew vegetables there for his famous South Tampa steakhouse.

Nestor, Laxer and co-owner Hinds Howard plan to finance the $17-million project privately.

"We're not asking for any money," Nestor said.

But noise, parking and traffic are key issues. Opponents worry the stadium also would serve as a concert venue.

Twelve Oaks Civic Association president Rosemarie Middleton said no one has a problem with soccer. But the stadium's placement could cause her neighborhood a lot of grief.

"The stadium itself is a good idea," she said. "The location is not a good idea."

Twelve Oaks is about a half-mile southwest of the Rowdies' property and is separated from the project site by the Veterans Expressway.

But that's hardly a comfort to homeowners who have complained for more than two years about loud music from the Green Iguana Bar & Grill, an Anderson Road nightclub that is farther away from them than the proposed stadium would be.

To drive home their point, they likely will remind commissioners there is no guarantee noise from ear-splitting concerts would be buffered by a multilane highway.

"The Ford Amphitheatre, they hear that all the way into Temple Terrace," said Juli Milas, president of the Bay Crest Park Civic Association, which supports Twelve Oaks in its opposition to the project.

The Rowdies say their place would be nothing like the amphitheater, where noise from the outdoor stage provoked hundreds of complaints and litigation.

The team does not plan to have as powerful a sound and video system as the 20,000-seat amphitheater does, Nestor said. It also has agreed to shut off any amplified music by 11 p.m.

But the stadium would be primarily for sports, including lacrosse, rugby and college and youth soccer.

"It's a viable project without needing to bring in all these events that neighbors are speculating that we'll have," Nestor said.

Contrary to a scenario offered by an opponent who works as an event planner, the team said it does not plan to expand the stadium's capacity for concerts by putting thousands of chairs on the field. That would ruin the turf, and a cover for the field would cost too much.

"It wouldn't make financial sense for us to do it," Nestor said.

But residents aren't alone in their concerns about noise. The county's Environmental Protection Commission last month sent the Rowdies' attorney a letter saying the 11 p.m. noise curfew would help, but warning that this alone might not be enough to stay within sound level limits.

Twelve Oaks residents also worry that stadium traffic would go south on Benjamin Road, then take Barry Road, cutting through their neighborhood, to get to Hanley Road.

Cut-through traffic on Barry is already such a problem that the neighborhood pays off-duty Florida Highway Patrol troopers to watch for speeders.

In response, the team has proposed funneling traffic leaving the stadium north on Benjamin to Waters.

"There's going to be traffic control, just as if you'd go to Raymond James Stadium for an event," Laxer said.

For the Rowdies, parking is a critical issue.

County rules require about one parking space for every three stadium seats. The team wants permission to have one space for every seven seats. The team expects to have 800 spaces on the stadium property and figures it can arrange to use parking lots at nearby businesses for anything else it needs.

A land use hearing officer has recommended parking requirements more stringent than the team wants: one space, either on or off-site, for every three seats. And he recommended all of the off-site spaces be within 2,000 feet and be secured by letters of commitment with the businesses.

The team says no other stadium in the area has to meet that kind of requirement. It also says the conditions suggested by the hearing officer would put it at a disadvantage in negotiating with owners of private lots.

Last week, both sides prepared for the showdown.

Rowdies executives made the rounds, laying out their case to journalists and editorial writers. The team also sent an e-mail to supporters asking them to turn out for the hearing wearing soccer jerseys and Rowdies green and gold.

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

. fast facts

If you go

What: Hillsborough County Commission discussion on proposed Tampa Bay Rowdies minor-league soccer stadium.

When: 9 a.m. Tuesday

Where: Second-floor board room, County Center, 601 E Kennedy Blvd., Tampa

Key county vote comes Tuesday on proposed Rowdies stadium 01/11/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 13, 2009 11:04am]

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