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Tampa asks Pokémon GO creator to remove PokéStops from Ballast Point Park

TAMPA — Isaih Quiñones is a veteran Pokémon Go player, and Ballast Point Park is his favorite hunting ground.

At Ballast Point, the 27-year-old Tampa furniture maker has captured hard-to-find Pokémon characters like the Arcanine, a creature that looks like a tiger crossed with a lion and a dog.

"It's a good spawning location for all the rarest Pokémon," Quiñones said Friday shortly after arriving at the South Tampa park for a mid-day session.

But there's been trouble in this Pokémon paradise since the augmented-reality smartphone game launched earlier this month. Now the heady days of good hunting here may be numbered.

The city of Tampa has asked game developer Niantic to remove "PokéStops" from the park. These hot spots in the game are where players can gather Pokéballs and launch lures to catch lots of Pokémon critters. The city also wants a "PokéGym," where players pit their Pokémon against each other in virtual battles, gone.

The move comes amid continued complaints from neighbors about players congregating in the 7.5-acre park after dark, said Tampa police spokeswoman Janelle McGregor. The park is open from dawn to dusk, though the fishing pier is open 24 hours a day.

"We're consistently responding to complaints about large crowds gathering when the park is closed," McGregor said. "The crowds are also affecting traffic, so not only are we dispersing hundreds of people, we're also re-routing traffic to ease congestion in the neighborhood."

Here's a 360 degree look at Ballast Point and its avid Pokemon players (with heron). @TB_Times pic.twitter.com/RxBY3ApN8o

Asking Niantic to remove the PokéStops was a "proactive" move to try to quash the problem, McGregor said.

The city made the request late last week, after an officer used a Taser on a man who refused to leave the park the night of July 22. He was one of about 150 people who were there that night.

Since then, "We've been out there every night," McGregor said.

The Pokemon app uses GPS and mapping capabilities to make the digital creatures appear in the real world and designates geographic landmarks and other locations as PokéStops and gyms. This has caused problems at places considered inappropriate for games, such as the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. and Myrtle Hill Cemetery in Tampa.

Locations can ask for stops to be removed by filling out a form on Niantic's web site. Tampa officials completed the form for Ballast Point last week and have not yet received a response, McGregor said.

In response to a query from the Tampa Bay Times, a Niantic spokeswoman sent a statement that did not directly address the city's request.

"Over the past several weeks, we've been overwhelmed by the enthusiastic response from the Pokémon Go community," the statement said. "That enthusiasm has led players to visit many real world locations and we have received requests to remove some locations. We are moving quickly to review all such requests."

Related: PokéDate? University of Tampa student develops app to lure players looking for love

The Pokémon craze has changed the dynamic of an already popular park in one of Tampa's more exclusive areas.

The playground, fishing pier, splash pad and recreation center at Ballast Point already draw lots of people to a place with limited parking. Visitors desperate to find a parking place are getting creative and returning to find tickets tucked under their wipers.

Responses to the city's request from Ballast Point Pokémon players ranged from irritation to understanding.

Quiñones, the furniture maker, said it's unfair to punish all players for the actions of the scofflaws.

"I think it's excessive," he said. "It takes away from the players who respect the rules."

Cristen McCaughin, a 45-year-old paralegal who somewhat sheepishly admitted she came to play during her lunch break, said she understands the city's move.

"If I lived out here, I'd feel the same way," the Land O' Lakes resident said. "It's fun to play but there are times when it's going to cause issues."

Then she politely excused herself. She had to get back to work.

"And I'm sure someone's dying for my parking spot," she said.

Some parents say the influx of people roaming around the park, faces buried in their phones, has made them a little more vigilant. There could be predators lurking among them, said Cirene Nowicki, a Brandon resident who brings her two kids to the park often while her husband is working at MacDill Air Force Base.

"They could be pretending to play Pokémon and taking pictures of kids," said Nowicki, 26. That and the parking problems "kind of make me not want to come."

Nei Martins, manager at the Taste of Boston restaurant near the fishing pier, was pleased to hear about the city's request.

Pokémon players come in to cool off and charge their phones but usually don't buy more than a drink, Martins said. Meanwhile, regulars who want to eat circle the parking lot before giving up and leaving in frustration.

If Niantic honors the city's request, Martins said, "we could get back to our regular routine of taking care of our customers."

Times senior news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Tony Marrero at tmarrero@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes.

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