RIVERVIEW — It took five years and millions of dollars, but the new Brandon community center at Winthrop Town Center is almost ready to open its doors.
At about 30,000 square feet, the grand marble structure promises to be a number of things, including community gathering spot, Hillsborough Community College classroom extension and reserve hurricane shelter.
And it finally has a name.
Say hello to the Regent.
"I think its not only a space that the community can use, but I think it's also a space the community will be proud of," said Ron Pierce, project consultant.
It's a project that has been in the works since 2006, when then-state Senate President Tom Lee, R-Brandon, and Rep. Trey Traviesa, R-Tampa, secured the first chunk of state funding.
The whole thing cost about $7 million, with about $2.5 million from the Florida Legislature, another $2.5 million from a Hillsborough County community-investment tax, about $1.3 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and $750,000 in land costs from HCC.
That cost is about the same or less than similar local facilities, such as the Carrollwood Cultural Center, Dunedin Community Center, and soon-to-open Largo Community Center.
Pierce and the other members of the not-for-profit Brandon Community Advantage Center board say the building fulfills a longtime void in the area for a hefty space that could be rented out for weddings, proms or business dinners.
"It's desperately needed," Pierce said. "There's nothing that can match this type of facility in eastern or southern Hillsborough County."
Until now, community space in the area was limited to a handful of smaller venues. The Center Place Fine Arts and Civic Association accommodates only 150 people in its multipurpose room, and FishHawk Ranch's Palmetto Club can handle about 350 in its ballroom.
The Regent, meanwhile, will accommodate up to 700.
Center Place spokeswoman Lisa Rodriguez said the venue's directors are excited about the Regent, so much so that they plan to host the Center Place Annual Arts Gala there next year.
The Regent already has taken more than a dozen reservations for events in its 10,000 square-foot ballroom, which features hardwood floors and three chandeliers, said recently appointed executive director Kristen Kerr. She envisions wedding photos on the grand outdoor staircase.
Four large historic photographs of Brandon landmarks will decorate the grand ballroom's walls.
On the ground floor below is a 3,500-square-foot multipurpose space to be used for community meetings and six classrooms for HCC — something the ever-expanding HCC Brandon campus says it desperately needs.
"We are running out of space in the main campus," said Brandon campus president Carlos Soto. "And our relationship with the community becomes a little tighter."
When the building opens in January, HCC will assume building ownership and most operational costs. The Regent's board will have a 30-year lease for $1 a year on the upstairs ballroom and downstairs meeting space. The board will pay any operational costs from events or community meetings with money from rentals.
To qualify as a hurricane shelter and receive the FEMA funding, the center's second-floor walls were built to withstand winds up to 160 mph, and its base floor to brace for 190 mph winds.
But the center was not added to the county's list of primary shelters, instead being designated a reserve shelter.
Larry Gispert, director of Hillsborough County's emergency management, said most of the primary shelters are public schools, which unlike the Regent, have their own kitchens and more space.
"I don't foresee us needing to designate it as a primary shelter, but it's there and we know it," Gispert said of the Brandon center.
Symmes Elementary School, one of about 35 schools in the area designated as primary shelters for high-intensity storms, is across the street.
That doesn't bother Pierce.
If the community needs it, the Regent is ready.
"We want it to be used 365 days a year," Pierce said.
An open house is scheduled for Jan. 15 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Visit experiencetheregent.com for more information.
Kim Wilmath can be reached at (813) 661-2442 or firstname.lastname@example.org.