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Tuesday, Oct 17, 2017
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North Boulevard housing site once eyed for stadium

TAMPA - Add another site to the list of locations floated for a potential Tampa Bay Rays stadium: the North Boulevard Homes public housing complex. Take the idea with a grain of salt, though. A senior executive with the Tampa Housing Authority said the stadium idea dates back to 2008 and no longer is under consideration. The subject of baseball stadiums came up this week during talks about how to liven up the Hillsborough River area, just north of downtown. Tampa leaders brought in land planning experts from the Urban Land Institute, a think tank, to help generate ideas. The Tampa Housing Authority is a major landowner south of the river, so it has been deeply involved in the discussions.
This week, residents of North Boulevard Homes told Urban Land Institute officials they had heard about a plan to build a stadium on the public housing property, said Jess Zimbabwe, executive director of the institute's Daniel Rose Center for Public Leadership in Land Use. In fact, city documents obtained by the Tribune this week show the housing authority once floated an idea to develop a stadium there. A conceptual master plan for North Boulevard Homes, produced in February 2008, shows three scenarios for redeveloping the 71-year-old public housing community. Two of the scenarios show no sign of any stadium, but the third shows a ballpark along North Boulevard and stretching to the river. The master plan doesn't specifically mention the Rays or even Major League Baseball, but it does suggest a very large baseball stadium, with 10,000 parking spaces and a six-story garage. On Friday, Tampa Housing Authority Chief Operating Officer Leroy Moore said the agency has no current plan to put a stadium on the property. It also never approached the Rays about the idea, he said. He acknowledged, though, that the housing authority once toyed with the idea. In 2007, shortly before the housing authority commissioned the master plan, there was talk that the Rays might leave St. Petersburg, Moore said. So, the housing authority included a stadium as one option in its master plan for North Boulevard Homes, Moore said. The housing authority wanted to explore how adding a major civic use, such as a stadium, might affect the density of the housing project's redevelopment, he said. The housing authority could have suggested a different major civic use, such as a hotel or a library instead of a stadium, according to the master plan. Still, the plan boasts about a ballpark's benefits. A stadium on the North Boulevard Homes site would increase foot traffic on the Tampa Riverwalk project. It also might serve as a "catalyst for future development in the surrounding neighborhoods," the master plan says. Four years later, though, the housing authority has no plans to develop a stadium there, Moore says. The agency now hopes the Hillsborough River can attract the shops, restaurants and pedestrians envisioned for the area. "Tampa has very few restaurants on the river," Moore said. The housing authority isn't the only group that has eyed the riverfront for a stadium. In the late 2000s, real estate broker Claire Clements tried to secure land for a possible Rays stadium near downtown Tampa. She looked at a tract of land in the Channelside area, across from the Tampa Bay Times Forum, and a site in the Tampa Heights area along the river. Ed Turanchik, a former Hillsborough County commissioner who is active in land planning, thinks the riverfront and a stadium are a bad mix. "Any stadium not in an urban area automatically has an issue of where are you park the cars" he said.

msasso@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7865 Twitter: @msasso

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