The leadership of Oldsmar has been seeking ways to revitalize their city of 14,000 for a number of years. Recently they have come to the conclusion this largely residential community could make an ideal home for the Tampa Bay Rays. The city is already known for its recreational opportunities, as home to the Tampa Bay Downs racetrack, and most recently of a new zipline and BMX track.
Where exactly is Oldsmar? The city is in north Pinellas county, and sits at the very northern tip of Tampa Bay, the land bridge connecting Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. It is bordered by the Westchase neighborhood of Hillsborough to the east, Safety Harbor and Palm Harbor to the west, and unincorporated areas of both counties to the north, much of which is part of the protected Brooker Creek Wildlife Preserve.
The city has an interesting history (see http://www.oldsmarlibrary.org/history.htm). Ransom Eli Olds, creator of Oldsmobile, purchased land in 1916 with the goal of creating a thriving new city, which was originally called R.E. Olds on the Bay. Olds advertised in northern and especially Detroit newspapers to attract businesses and residents, with the slogan "Oldsmar for Health, Wealth and Happiness."
Plans for a luxury hotel and golf course on the bay never materialized, but a factory producing something called the "Olds Chair" -- similar to the Adirondack chair -- was built, and during the 1920s there was a popular casino on the bay. The community was hit hard by the 1921 hurricane; with the opening of the Gandy Bridge and Courtney Campbell Causeway Oldsmar lost its role as a key connection across the bay. For these reasons development stalled (Olds had imagined a community of 100,000 but in the late 1920s there were just 200 residents) and R.E. Olds sold off his holdings and left. Much of the city’s current population and built environment can be traced to a significant growth spurt in the 1980s and 1990s.
Current Mayor Doug Bevis has been active in seeking to redevelop Oldsmar, hoping for more commercial activity, more density and a great sense of place. The city spent several years trying and failing to develop a new commercial center, dubbed Market Square, near the current city hall, but final decisions were never made about its ultimate use (hotel vs. office vs. residential), and a holdout property owner made land acquisition ultimately problematic.
As that project stalled, the city contracted with USF’s School of Architecture and Community Design to come up with ideas for a revitalized city center. Looking more broadly at the city’s historic core, student teams came up with proposals to increase density and walkability, revitalize a historic “fan pattern” street grid first conceived by R.E. Olds, and connect the core to the nearby Tampa Bay waterfront.
The site considered for a stadium is not, however, on the bay nor is it connected to the Market Square or USF SACD planning areas. It is across the street from the Tampa Bay Downs racetrack, which puts it next to one of Oldsmar’s best known sites (although one that doesn’t seem to be touted by those promoting the city) – a 20 acre flea market whose website boasts it is so big that the National Guard needs to be called to find lost shoppers.
The proposed stadium site is privately owned by an individual who, according to Mayor Bevis, is interested in selling. A stadium rendering was distributed at the city’s press conference (see above), but I’d urge readers not to spend too much time fretting about the design – this is just a generic stadium image that has been used as a sort of place holder to indicate how a structure might fit on the site. It’s not meant to represent the intended design for this stadium.
What are the advantages of this site?
It’s big (120 acres), certainly big enough to accommodate a stadium, parking, and other potential development that would be needed to support a professional baseball venue such as hotels or restaurants. Dealing with a single owner, rather than trying to acquire parcels from multiple owners, streamlines the development process. And the enthusiasm of the mayor makes it more likely that a Rays stadium proposal would get necessary zoning and building approvals.
But that, really, is all I can think of.
Oldsmar boosters have argued that the location straddling the Pinellas-Hillsborough County line will facilitate public funding contributions from both counties. But county support is not assured: both counties would need to make the decision to allocate existing resources or leverage new funding sources for this purpose, and there’s no indication that Hillsborough County would have any interest in putting money into this project.
What are the disadvantages of this site?
Where to start?
While Oldsmar officials claim the site is widely accessible, it’s probably more accurate to say it is equally inaccessible to most major population and business centers. Access to the site is via one state road. There are no connections to limited access highways; no transit connections and no indication that, should pigs fly and transit come to Tampa Bay, Oldsmar would be considered a priority area.
Oldsmar officials claim that 1.1 million residents live within a 30 minute drive of the stadium, considered the prime market for stadium attendance. This compares unfavorably with the comparable population figures for downtown Tampa, Westshore, and mid-Pinellas, as calculated by the ABC coalition in 2009, which were in the 1.5 – 1.6 million range (and would certainly be higher using current population figures). It’s also hard to assess the reliability of that 1.1 million figure. The analysis conducted for the city focused on 20 and 60 minute drive time analyses (see figure below). The 20 minute drive time population is a modest 440,000.
Moreover there is nothing – and I say this with all due respect for the good people of Oldsmar – compelling about this site. There is no iconic landmark or natural feature; no vibrant urban neighborhood. The stadium’s neighbors would be a racetrack and a flea market. A huge flea market.
The Rays have been consistent in describing the principles guiding their site selection process. They seek a site that has existing dining and retail amenities; local flavor and an authentic local fabric; that maximizes connections to key population and business centers; and has few obstacles to development. As far as I can tell, the Oldsmar site meets just the last of these criteria. And that’s not enough.
I admire Mayor Bevis for this gutsy move. Perhaps the fact that we are all talking about Oldsmar for a couple of days means he’s accomplished something. Hopefully no one spent a lot of time or money on this proposal (the architect, Francisco Semsch, President of FSA Architecture/Construction., reportedly created the rendering pro bono.)
But I’m going out on a limb here and predicting: The Rays will not be playing in Oldsmar.