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Looking at other side of soccer stadium debate

TOWN 'N COUNTRY

I’m driving around Town 'N Country, looking for that wing of the Louvre. You mean they don't have one? And no fine arts museum either?

Don't tell me this is Town 'N Country, with burglar bars on the houses and four fast-food restaurants at a single intersection.

Let's be real.

Close to 10,000 Town 'N Country families are on food stamps, an increase of 36 percent over last year. Last month, I saw a family living in their car outside the La Mercedes grocery store.

So I ask: How can Town 'N Country be so high and mighty as to turn away professional soccer?

As far as I'm concerned, the Rowdies can build an arena right on my front lawn. Granted, that will not happen. Granted, I live close enough to Waters Avenue and the Veterans Expressway to enjoy a stadium, but not so close that I'd hear concert music from my bedroom.

Still …

I rang up Rosemarie Middleton, president of the Twelve Oaks Civic Association and spokeswoman for those homeowners who shouted a resounding "not-in-my-neighborhood.''

It was shortly after the Jan. 13 Hillsborough County Commission meeting, and at first she seemed to dread talking to yet another reporter.

The blog posts have been brutal, she said. Like me, posters lead with cheap shots about Town 'N Country (the crime, the immigrants), then suggest opponents to the stadium are all old and clueless.

Far from it. Middleton, a retired educator in her early 70s, asks tough questions, thinks conceptually and loves to organize.

A new stadium might create — all right, would create — construction jobs in the short-term. Middleton's son-in-law, a struggling tile setter, might benefit.

"But we can't think economically about today," she said. "Everything is long term."

Nor would she describe herself or her neighbors as antisoccer.

Just south of Twelve Oaks is the Shimberg complex, home to Pony league baseball and the Town 'N Country Soccer League.

"We support them," she said. "Our neighbors on Oakvista Circle are not bothered by the lights. I have a granddaughter who played soccer there.''

No, it's not about a distaste for soccer, she said.

And please don't think they have anything against Hispanics, who are notoriously passionate about the sport.

The project simply did not make sense, she said. Early applications were so oblique, you had to be a detective to know what they were building. Even if they promised not to stage rock concerts, Middleton said no one would believe them because the venue has to make money.

Middleton would prefer industry — that's right, a factory of some sort — on the land along Benjamin Road.

At least industry would not generate nighttime traffic. And that's a huge issue: traffic along busy Waters Avenue, and more traffic cutting through Twelve Oaks.

Interestingly, when I rang up my old friend Sonia Montes, president of Town 'N Country Soccer, I got a similar response.

"Having the Rowdies there, (Twelve Oaks residents) felt that they would not have what they have now, the respect and the quiet, the family atmosphere. They wanted that as residential, which you can't blame them.''

That said, Montes recognizes the lost opportunity for business relationships and mentoring.

"It would have been positive for the soccer league and a great experience for the kids," she said. "But we have to understand about the heavy traffic. It's just like Raymond James Stadium.''

Now the Rowdies are looking in Dover, which is also largely Latin and way more rural. They've met with some resistance there too: People move to the country for peace and quiet.

It's hard to argue with Middleton and Montes, who have given the issue a lot more thought than I have.

That's the sad irony of economic development. Even if something is good for the community and the economy, even if it offers good, clean entertainment and positive role models for kids who need them, that something invariably comes with a high cost and a big carbon footprint.

All I know is, the sports fan in me will be bummed if the Rowdies end up way out in east Hillsborough while Benjamin and Waters gets another McDonald's.

Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 269-5307 or sokol@sptimes.com.

Looking at other side of soccer stadium debate 01/22/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 8, 2011 9:25am]
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