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Tampa Bay Rowdies to get new life in USL

TAMPA — Andrew Nestor's goal to give the Tampa Bay Rowdies a second life includes a new soccer stadium in northwest Tampa.

And he has promised to build it with his own dime.

Nestor, a 25-year-old Massachusetts business executive, leads an investment group that has been awarded a professional soccer franchise that aims to begin play in the USL First Division in April 2010.

Also included in the investment group are Bern's Steakhouse president David Laxer and Hinds Howard, Nestor's business partner with Citrus Ventures, a Massachusetts-based merchant bank and ventures firm that invests in and advises early-stage companies.

The team will play in the USL's top-tier league, which consists of 11 teams, including teams in Atlanta, Miami, Montreal and Puerto Rico, and will add a team in Austin, Texas, next season. The 28-game season runs from April-November. The average attendance is just over 4,000 fans a game.

"We're genuinely excited about this," said USL executive vice president and chief operating officer Tim Holt, whose league offices are headquartered in Carrollwood. "It comes down to execution. All the ingredients are there. It's the right place at the right time."

Nestor said the money is there. The owners have already paid a one-time $350,000 franchise fee and Nestor said he expects an operating budget of about $2 million. Holt said the new Rowdies will be the first USL franchise to launch in a custom-built soccer stadium that they've built.

"It's unique thing because we've gotten there over time with most of our venues," Holt said.

Nestor said the team's stadium plan is completely independent of the county commissioners plan to build a 30-field soccer facility for $15 million, of which an initial proposal for a larger complex that included a stadium for $40 million.

Tampa has had two pro soccer teams that folded. The Tampa Bay Rowdies played in the NASL for 18 years, playing at Tampa Stadium mostly, but folded in 1993. The MSL's Tampa Bay Mutiny, which played at Raymond James, lasted just six years, never able to capture a soccer atmosphere with the lack of an intimate venue.

"We obviously need to prove ourselves to the community," Nestor said. "We as a group understand that there are a lot of question marks."

The ownership group, however, still has plenty of details to work out. Nestor said the ownership will fully fund a 7,500-seat stadium, but a site and price tag have yet to be determined.

The team hired former Rowdies player and Mutiny coach Perry Van Der Beck as technical director and to head the team's youth soccer initiative, but it still needs to hire a general manager and head coach.

The team will retain the old Rowdies colors of green and gold, given permission to take over the NASL brand by former Rowdies owner Cornelia Corbett, but a logo hasn't been released.

The franchise's centerpiece will be the stadium, which ownership hopes will be centralized to draw from throughout Hillsborough and also Pinellas and Pasco counties.

"We have a concrete plan," he said. "Everything is measured at this point. We have a strong group, support from the league and other owners and we will definitely play in 2010."

Tampa Bay Rowdies to get new life in USL 06/19/08 [Last modified: Thursday, June 26, 2008 5:32pm]
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