Gibsonton Y to start with court, fields, but will need donations for building

Donations from the community will be sought for a pool and branch building.
Published January 17 2014

GIBSONTON — A YMCA branch will sprout from the dirt here initially in the form of sports fields and a basketball court.

The Tampa Metropolitan Area YMCA wants to put a pool and branch building on the site, too, but bringing that vision to fruition will require a successful capital campaign in a recovering economy.

Soccer and basketball enthusiasts can begin their countdown because the first phase of the project should be finished in the fall. In addition to a covered basketball court and multipurpose fields for soccer and other sports, the project includes a playground, picnic pavilion, parking and drainage improvements.

"We're very, very excited," said Tom Looby, the Y's president and CEO. "It's been our ambition to serve this community."

The Y put in $1.5 million and received $2 million from Hillsborough County to cover the costs of the first phase. The branch is also being built on county-owned land, which saved the Y thousands in land acquisition.

YMCA officials, joined by county commissioners and local leaders, will meet Tuesday to kick off the project with a private ceremonial groundbreaking at the branch's 40-acre site at Old Big Bend and Bullfrog Creek roads.

The Y will contribute money to build the pool and branch building, but will need financial support from the community to complete them. Y officials are working to nail down the final costs and timeline.

"It will depend on our internal success for the fundraising," said Cindy Sofarelli, a senior group vice president for the Y.

The Y is working to put together a team of volunteers and staffers to help with the fundraising campaign. They will seek donations from families, companies and foundations.

"It's all about relationship building," Sofarelli said. "That's the key."

Looby said the organization aims to raise $2.5 million, but he called that number a rough estimate. He had hoped to be further along with the project but pointed to the country's economic slump in the past few years. He is confident construction on the pool and new branch building will start in the near future.

Sofarelli said the Y has had successful capital campaigns in the past because people understand its mission.

The Y, of course, appeals to people from young children to seniors. It offers exercise, sports programs, swimming, camps and wellness support but also has branched into educational areas, such as helping with the Teen Achievers program at Eisenhower Middle School in Gibsonton.

Talking about what staffers do and who they help inspires donations, Sofarelli said.

"The way we do it is to share our story," she said.

The road to the new branch hasn't been without controversy. Some have said the facility should have been placed farther south. Others fear that the Y will hurt established fitness centers, swimming programs and child care centers.

"I don't think we'll come in and close shop," Sofarelli said. "We're really trying to be good neighbors. We're a community organization."

Sofarelli and Looby think the branch is in a perfect spot, near I-75 and between U.S. 301 and 41.

Sofarelli said interest and a community poll led to the location of the new branch. She said Y members who live in Riverview, Gibsonton, Ruskin and beyond have long complained about the drive to Y branches in Valrico and Brandon, 30 to 45 minutes away.

For now, the facility is called the Family Y at Big Bend Road. But it could be named after a donor, which is how the Campo Y in Valrico got its name.

The Big Bend Y will be the 19th facility in the Tampa Metropolitan Area YMCA system and the first new Y in 10 years.

Monica Bennett can be reached at