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Proposed soccer stadium site in Town 'N Country could become big box store instead

TOWN 'N COUNTRY — Goodbye soccer stadium, hello big box store?

That's what could be shaping up at the once-proposed site of the Tampa Bay Rowdies' minor league soccer stadium.

Eleven months ago, residents cheered as the team withdrew a proposal to build a 5,000-seat stadium at Waters Avenue and Benjamin Road, just east of the Veterans Expressway.

Now those same neighbors are watching as the property owner seeks a land use change geared toward large-scale commercial development.

Nearby residents are more comfortable with retail, even a large store, than with a stadium that would have drawn crowds for games and concerts, said Rosemarie Middleton, president of the Twelve Oaks Civic Association.

Still, she said, "we're going to go to the (public) hearings and just let them know that we're paying attention to it."

The 15.4 acres are owned by Bern's Steak House restaurateur David Laxer, who also is a co-owner in the Rowdies, as well as the restaurant itself and the Laxer Family Limited Partnership. Once the restaurant used the land as a farm to grow the fresh vegetables served alongside Bern's famous steaks. Now it lies fallow.

The proposed land use change — from light-industrial to an office-commercial designation — would allow the development of stores, offices, mixed-used projects or up to 307 dwellings.

But a representative for Laxer has focused on the land's potential as a site for a big box store. The expressway is nearby, neighborhoods are close enough to provide a customer base, and three other big boxes — Lowe's, Office Depot and Target — are less than half a mile to the west.

"It is the perfect location for an intensive commercial use," wrote Bruce Kaschyk, Tampa division manager and senior vice president of the Genesis Group, in a letter to the Hillsborough County City-County Planning Commission. The commission is scheduled to consider the request at a public hearing on Feb. 22.

Meanwhile, the team may soon announce where else it could seek to build a stadium. The Rowdies are a reconstitution of the franchise that drew boisterous crowds to the old Tampa Stadium in the 1970s and '80s. Games are scheduled to begin in April.

The Rowdies had proposed building a $17 million stadium on the Laxer property. Facing determined opposition from residents and open skepticism from county commissioners, the team withdrew its request in January.

In a search for alternatives, the team and county officials discussed a variety of other sites, including 400 acres north of Interstate 4 near McIntosh Road that are owned by the city of Tampa.

The county also suggested possible sites on Lutz-Lake Fern Road in Keystone, at or near Cordoba Ranch off Livingston Avenue in Lutz, at the north end of the Tampa Executive Airport, east of Tampa, near State Road 60 in Dover and near Madison Avenue between U.S. 41 and Interstate 75 in Riverview.

The Rowdies are expected to announce plans for a new stadium at an alternative site in January.

Richard Danielson can be reached at danielson@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3403.

.If you go

What: Public hearing on proposed land use amendment for 15.4 acres at Waters Avenue and Benjamin Road. The site was once proposed for a 5,000-seat minor league soccer stadium. It now is being touted as a possible site for a big box retailer.

Where: Planning Commission Board Room, 18th floor of the County Center Building, 601 E Kennedy Blvd., Tampa.

When: 5:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 22.

Proposed soccer stadium site in Town 'N Country could become big box store instead 12/24/09 [Last modified: Thursday, December 24, 2009 3:30am]

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