ST. PETERSBURG — Toriano Parker, the embattled founder of the nonprofit recreation center Advantage Village Academy, is closing the center.
"We're going to close up here by the end of the month. It just all kind of fell apart," Parker, 39, said in an interview last week.
Using mostly his own money, Parker started Advantage Village Academy last summer in the long-abandoned Jordan Park Gym. The recreation center offered sports programs, and a computer room for young people and small businesses.
An article in the Times revealed that Parker, who runs a tax preparation and financial services business next door, is under indictment on federal tax fraud charges for allegedly inflating tax returns of more than a dozen clients by nearly $50,000. He has pleaded not guilty. The next court date is Thursday.
In June, Parker renewed a lease with the city's housing authority that allows him to buy the building, and he told the agency he planned to do so next year.
Parker told the Times he was counting on donations and grants to help buy the million-dollar building. Since the article appeared, supporters began to walk away, he said. Parker acknowledged that even community leaders who publicly supported him didn't know of his legal troubles.
"I think we've gone (forth) the best we could," he said. "Maybe I'm meant to do something else in my life."
One of the agencies that used the building in recent months was the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Suncoast, which was planning on returning to the gym for training its fledgling double dutch team.
Carl Lavender, executive director of the Boys & Girls Clubs, said there is a need for a large gym in Midtown and that he hopes someone would step in to take the reins of the gym.
"You hate to see a building like that sit empty in a neighborhood where young people are in need of so much," he said.
Luis Perez can be reached at (727) 892-2271 or firstname.lastname@example.org