RUSKIN — A former fire station could become a community arts center by January, thanks to $100,000 allocated by commissioners in next year's tentative Hillsborough County budget.
The opening of the Ruskin Firehouse Cultural Center hangs on the approval of the county's fiscal 2012 budget, which will be voted on in September. If approved, the money would go toward improvements at the fire station on First Avenue, which was vacated by the county for a new one this year, said Sandy Council, president of the Ruskin Community Development Foundation, which is handling the project.
Construction would start as soon as the money was approved.
"A lot hinges on the final vote of the budget," Council said. "We're moving ahead as if that's going to happen."
As the first of its kind in the South Shore area, the cultural center would provide access to a wide selection of arts, Council said.
"It's not just going to be visual art," she said. "There will be theater, music, the whole spectrum."
Meeting rooms would be available for rent, and the building would accommodate classes, workshops and visiting artists.
The fire station, which is owned by the county, would be leased to the foundation, which submitted a business plan and is awaiting final approval from the county, Council said.
Renovations planned for the building include bringing the facility up to code and making it handicap accessible. Council estimates that will cost at least $70,000.
In addition to the county's money, the foundation is set to receive $60,000 from the Foundation of Greater Sun City Center once it gains possession of the center, Council said. Keller Williams and the South Shore Arts Council have donated an additional $6,000 toward the project.
It's something the community has been seeking for a while, said Commissioner Sandy Murman, who helped secure the money for the center, which is in her district.
"Ruskin has often been overlooked," she said. "This is going to be a good addition to south Hillsborough County."
Though the center's money is not part of the $2.5 million set aside by commissioners for the restoration of historical properties, the discussion that led to that fund also benefitted the center, Murman said.
Public outcry over the amount of money spent at the Regent, she said, brought attention to the need for community centers in other areas.
People in the arts community are excited, said Nina Tatlock, co-director of Big Draw Studios, an art studio in Ruskin.
"For the community, it will be a place where things can happen," said Tatlock, who also serves on the foundation's committee. "It's where people from the community can come to participate in the arts, which we feel is an enrichment to the community."
Besides drawing more attention to the arts in South Shore, supporters hope the center will create more interest in the area.
"The Ruskin area has great potential for economic development," Murman said. "This could be the focus, the hub of where it starts."
Shelley Rossetter can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 661-2442.