Lady may have to leave the Tramp at home — if she is to use what may be the area's sole members-only dog park, that is.
The Channeldistrict Kennel Club officially opened Monday across from the Grand Central at Kennedy condos where, now, cabbage palms dot the landscape.
This used to be a row of aging and rat-infested industrial buildings, but those were razed to make way for the park.
"They were the worst-looking buildings down here," said Ken Stoltenberg, who helped develop Grand Central and invested about $80,000 to create the dog park across the street.
He said the condo has designated pet areas on the roof but not enough — about 75 percent of its residents are dog owners.
"We never planned for the amount of dogs we have here," Stoltenberg said.
After some research, he said he could find no privately-owned dog clubs in the Tampa Bay area. So he decided to create an exclusive park of his own.
In other parts of the country, the idea has attracted dog owners who feel their pets are safer in a secluded environment. An Internet search found private dog parks in Ohio, California, New York, and other parts of Florida, including Gainesville, Jacksonville, and Inverness.
At Channeldistrict Kennel Club, members use a pass to get through the locked gate. Once inside, the 25,000-square-foot park has a section for large dogs, another for small dogs and a common area. A special fenced "Time Out Zone" is available for bad doggies. There are special dog water fountains, misters and about $2,000 worth of agility equipment. Benches offer owners a place to rest, trash cans and bags are available to dispose of doggie waste, and security cameras monitor the scene.
The cost to join is $25 a month. Before becoming members, dogs must be interviewed by an American Kennel Club trainer to check for temperament.
Linda Saul-Sena, Democratic candidate for the District 5 County Commission seat, made an appearance at Monday's ribbon-cutting with her poodle Zooe in tow. Saul-Sena has talked about her work developing community plans, including the Channel District, and her interest in fighting suburban sprawl by focusing on urban development.
She called the club an "example of innovative entrepreneurship."
"There are 5,000 people who live in the Channel District and downtown that can use this," Saul-Sena said.
Stoltenberg said there are about 20 members so far who are doing just that.
"Our hope is more folks in the Channel District, specifically, and downtown can bring their animals here and take them off the leash," Stoltenberg said.
The city created a dog park inside the revamped Curtis Hixon Park, which opened downtown this year. That park, however, is a mile from the Channel District.
Kennel club members also point to differences. Curtis Hixon does not have separate sections for small and large dogs. A dog attack this year left a 10-pound Shih Tzu dead after being attacked by a 110-pound dog at Curtis Hixon's dog run. Rules prohibit aggressive dogs there and a sign posted at the entrance says owners are responsible for their animals.
Another difference, Channeldistrict has more trees and real grass, as opposed to the synthetic grass in Curtis Hixon's doggie area.
Anne Sayers, a Grand Central resident, said she does not take her best friend Lily, an "honorary" Maltese, to Curtis Hixon.
"It's too hot," she said, noting the lack of shade there. "I think it's ill conceived for big dogs."
A handful of nearby condo residents came out this week to check out the new doggie digs.
Jamie Smithers, 25, was there with Gio, her 6-month-old French bulldog, and Spencer, her 3-year-old pug-Pomeranian mix.
"They were really excited about this opening," said Smithers, who recently moved here from Boulder, Colo. The new park, she said, was the reason she decided to stay at the building after her lease was up.
"One hundred percent reason to stay here," she said.
Sayers, 47, said Lily used to catch rats coming from the old buildings. Now she can play catch at the grassy park.
"It was a complete eyesore for the neighborhood," Sayers said, welcoming the change. "I think it's fantastic. I think it's what this community needs."
Jared Leone can be reached at (813) 226-3435 or firstname.lastname@example.org.