Stadium's vacant land can spur development

Published August 10, 2007

The 16 acres on which Clearwater's Jack Russell Stadium sat for so many years will soon be cleared, opening the door to future development of the property. At least, that is the hope of city officials, who plan to start work on a master plan for the vacant site in the months ahead.

Any worthwhile master plan engages the surrounding community in conversation about what kind of development would be most beneficial. Clearwater officials plan to have those conversations with the North Greenwood community once the process begins, just as they did more than three years ago.

At that time, the Philadelphia Phillies baseball team was moving out of Jack Russell, which had been the team's venue for playing spring training games for decades, and into a new stadium complex near U.S. 19 and Drew Street.

But with the old, increasingly dilapidated stadium still sitting on the property, the city got only a couple of interesting proposals from developers. Neither of those led to a project.

And the conversations the city held with North Greenwood residents showed the community was divided about the best use of the property. Some wanted a supermarket or retail stores, others housing, and some hoped for a business or industry that would provide jobs. There were even those who wanted the stadium left there. Some of the suggestions were unrealistic for the area, which has a hodge-podge of land uses and a considerable number of rundown buildings.

Why is there any reason to hope the outcome will be different this time?

The most important difference is that a group of articulate, civic-minded North Greenwood residents has formed and started lobbying for change in the neighborhood. The group has held meetings, organized marches and begun working with police to clean up crime in the area. This group can contribute greatly to the discussions about a master plan for the Jack Russell site. The group can be a nucleus around which the community hopefully can reach consensus on the best use of the property.

The cleared property will be more attractive to developers, who won't face the delays or expense of demolishing the stadium or have to confront neighborhood opposition to demolition.

And the city's goal of developing a master plan for the site before seeking development offers increases the chance of getting better proposals this time. The city of Largo used such an approach on the old Crossroads Mall property at U.S. 19 and Roosevelt Boulevard, and ended up with a plan for a town center including retail stores, restaurants and housing from a viable development company.

While the Jack Russell site is not in a high-traffic area, and therefore not a likely location for something like a town center, it will be important for any project built there to be successful and a contributor to the economic health of the neighborhood and the city.

The master plan discussions will not begin immediately, because the city needs to complete some other projects first. However, it is not too early for North Greenwood residents to begin those conversations among themselves.