A private investor group is looking to build a sports park in the Tampa Bay area, and one site being considered is a publicly owned preserve west of Tampa International Airport. The park might make a wonderful asset for the region. But it shouldn't be shoehorned into that piece of property, and it certainly shouldn't replace a buffer between the airport and a residential neighborhood.
Former Tampa Bay Storm owner Bob Gries leads a group that wants to build a $20 million sports complex in the West Shore area near the airport. The group is looking at several sites, including a 23-acre parcel that TIA owns on the airport's western boundary. That land is dedicated now as a "scenic preserve" that the airport uses as a sound buffer to lessen the impact of runway-related noise in the adjoining Dana Shores neighborhood.
The park project is in its infancy, making this the best time for the airport to make clear that the preserve is off the table. The airport and the nearby baseball facility at Skyway Park already create a tremendous amount of traffic and noise for Dana Shores. The major access routes in and out — the Veterans Expressway, Memorial Highway and the Courtney Campbell Parkway — are packed highways that hardly need any more congestion. This area is already overbuilt; having another sports park would worsen the hassle for residents and visitors alike.
The airport's attorneys sent a warning letter in December after a local development company ordered a soil test of the property without the airport's knowledge or permission. Before any more happens behind the scenes, the airport's governing board should make clear that the property will continue to serve its worthwhile purpose as a protective buffer for the neighborhood. That use is as beneficial for the airport as it is for Dana Shores.