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Rowdies withdraw request to build soccer stadium

At a hearing Tuesday, residents said they were impressed at how relentlessly county commissioners questioned the Rowdies’ proposed $17-million stadium in Town ’N Country that would have seated 5,000, but could have been expanded to nearly 10,000.

ATOYIA DEANS | Times

At a hearing Tuesday, residents said they were impressed at how relentlessly county commissioners questioned the Rowdies’ proposed $17-million stadium in Town ’N Country that would have seated 5,000, but could have been expanded to nearly 10,000.

TAMPA — Facing defeat at the Hillsborough County Commission, the Tampa Bay Rowdies on Tuesday withdrew their request to build a 5,000-seat soccer stadium in Town 'N Country.

Most commissioners found potential problems with traffic, parking or noise, making denial a virtual certainty.

"I'm excited about having the Tampa Bay Rowdies here … but I'm not going to rush a project with so many unanswered questions and people saying, 'Trust us,' " Commissioner Mark Sharpe said.

With the original site on Waters Avenue out of consideration, the focus shifts to other spots the Rowdies might look at.

"It seems that there are other sites, so we'll continue to work with them," team president and co-owner Andrew Nestor said of county officials.

Commissioner Jim Norman said one possibility could be 400-plus acres owned by the city of Tampa water department north of Interstate 4. The property is about 13 miles east of downtown Tampa, near McIntosh Road.

"Working with the parks department, we can find something else," Norman told team executives. "I plead with you: Don't kill the project. Find something else that works."

Norman said the I-4 site offers the opportunity for a public-private partnership allowing the Rowdies to build their stadium and local officials to create a youth sports complex.

Norman had pushed for a $40-million sports tournament complex called Championship Park, but the idea got squeezed out of a tight county budget. Instead, commissioners have earmarked $15-million for an amateur soccer complex with at least two dozen fields.

Wherever that complex goes, "we want to have the Rowdies and their facility located there, because with the joint use, we could probably get some of their players to work with the kids," county parks spokesman John Brill said.

Acquiring the city land would probably entail buying the property at fair market value, Brill said, but he couldn't say what that might be. Preliminary discussions indicate the city might be willing to entertain an offer, Brill said.

Elias Franco, a spokesman for the Tampa city water department, said he was "not aware of any of this."

Nestor said county parks officials had previously suggested four other sites, but they didn't "work for various reasons." One was too remote for fans from Pinellas. Another in northern Hillsborough was 5 miles from the interstate.

In contrast, the team already owned 15.3 acres on Waters Avenue next to the Veterans Expressway. Soccer fans from Pinellas, Pasco, Hernando, Polk and Manatee could have gotten there easily. The site's high-profile location also offered opportunities to sell the stadium's naming rights.

The $17-million stadium would have held 5,000 at first, but could have been expanded to nearly 10,000 seats.

Describing the project as "like a glorified high school stadium," Nestor said teams in the Rowdies' league draw crowds of 3,000 to 5,000. He noted that Chamberlain High School's stadium holds about 4,500.

"That's a comparison of what we're looking to build and what kind of crowd we're going to have," Nestor told commissioners.

The original Rowdies began in 1975, drawing boisterous crowds to Tampa Stadium. After the North American Soccer League fell apart in the mid 1980s, the team played in various leagues until 1993.

The reconstituted franchise, with the same name and team colors, plans to begin playing as part of the United Soccer Leagues in April 2010. The Rowdies expect to play at the University of Tampa or the University of South Florida their first year and hope to have a permanent home built by 2011.

But residents from Twelve Oaks, a community about 2,000 feet west of the Waters Avenue site, feared it would ruin their neighborhood.

Speeding and traffic congestion would get worse on Waters Avenue and Benjamin and Barry roads, they said, and parking would be in short supply. They also worried the stadium could have become a noisy concert venue.

"I don't think any of you want to deal with noise problems like the ones you've had from the Ford Amphitheatre," said Rosemarie Middleton, president of the Twelve Oaks Civic Association. In response, the team had promised to shut off any amplified music by 11 p.m. and said the venue would be used mostly for sports including lacrosse, rugby and college and youth soccer.

County rules also require about one parking space for every three seats, but the Rowdies wanted permission to have one space for every seven seats.

Commissioners said it did not bode well that the team was asking for a break for a 5,000-seat stadium it planned some day to double in size.

"I think this is a wonderful project, (but) I think it's misplaced," Commissioner Rose Ferlita said.

Residents applauded the commissioners' probing questions. "The commissioners paid attention and they listened to the community and they did their homework before going in there," Middleton said.

"I'm very happy it's not going to be at my front door," said Amy James, 38, a substitute teacher who lives directly across from the Waters Avenue site.

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

Rowdies withdraw request to build soccer stadium 01/13/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 14, 2009 4:42pm]

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