RIVERVIEW — What began as a vision for a cultural arts center at times, to the visionaries, seemed like an impossible dream.
Mired in copious paperwork, federal red tape and budget constraints, it seemed as if the project would never move from vision to reality, said Earl Lennard, a board member and former project manager for the Brandon Community Advan tage Center.
But the ceremonial shoveling of dirt on a dreary Dec. 4 morning was proof that work would finally begin on the 32,000-square-foot meeting place. Planners expect to begin construction next week and conclude the project by the end of 2010. The center's programs should be fully operational by the beginning of 2011, Lennard said.
It took two years to move the advantage center from concept to construction. The delay wasn't due to lack of effort on anyone's part, Lennard said. The former school superintendent left his post as project director when Gov. Charlie Crist appointed him to succeed Phyllis Busansky as supervisor of elections in July. Busansky died unexpectedly in June.
At the groundbreaking, Lennard praised the volunteer board. He singled out co-chair Miller Dowdy, a Hillsborough County planning commissioner, for his resolve.
"Even though it took long, long hours on the part of the committee, it was particularly Miller's guidance and steadfast devotion that saw this through," he said.
Carlos Soto, president of the Brandon campus of Hillsborough Community College, which will provide classes at the advantage center, also had high praise for Dowdy.
"There were times when I thought this thing (the project) was going to go south," Soto said. "But I give Miller credit for keeping it together and persevering."
For his part, Dowdy thanked former state Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, and Rep. Trey Traviesa, R-Tampa, for securing the initial $2 million appropriation for the project.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency donated $1.5 million in matching funds to build the center as a hurricane shelter. The remaining funds came from Community Investment Fund dollars, giving the project the $2.5 million in additional money needed to build, County Commission Chairman Ken Hagan said.
"It was a wonderful partnership among all levels of government," Hagan said. "Even though the economy is bad, this is a good time to build because construction costs are down, and this project doesn't require any additional operational costs on the part of the county because it will be run as a public-private partnership."
Hagan also praised John and Kay Sullivan, the former owners of the 4-acre property at 6437 Watson Road on which the center will sit. The advantage center will border the Sullivans' 149-acre neotraditional Winthrop Town Centre community, which already includes a theater and a pedestrian-friendly shopping area.
Plans for the building include 27,699 square feet of air-conditioned space and 1,400 square feet of covered outdoor areas. An upper level will contain about 10,000 square feet of dividable event space. The lower level will include six classrooms and a 3,500-square-foot multipurpose space.
Dowdy said it should provide the room Brandon lacks for community meetings, social gatherings and cultural arts performances, as well as offer continuing education and workforce development opportunities.
HCC plans to hold classes there and will share in the operational costs.
"It will give us a sense of place that will inspire cultural, social and educational opportunities, and provide shelter in time of emergency for our future generations," Dowdy said.
D'Ann White can be reached at [email protected]