Hillsborough commissioner proposes resurrecting plans to build Citrus Park community center

CITRUS PARK — For months, residents have debated how to spend $1.5 million set aside for a community center that the county says it can no longer afford to build and maintain.

A large faction lobbied for all of the money to be spent expanding Little League facilities. The Citrus Park Little League is at capacity and could use a new field, better parking and other improvements, proponents say.

The Citrus Park Community Civic Association, however, has pushed for a more comprehensive plan. It proposed a three-prong approach that splits the money between the Little League, stormwater drainage improvements and an infrastructure study.

Still other residents have argued the county should make good on its promise to build the community center.

Surprisingly, there may be a way to give everyone what they want, Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan now says.

"I'd like to refine the improvements and come back with more of an accurate cost associated with them, but I think we could potentially have a win-win for everyone," he announced at a County Commission meeting last week.

At his request, commissioners asked staff to come up with cost proposals to see if the county can do it all: expand the Little League facilities, improve infrastructure, create more green space and begin the process of building a community center.

The community center Hagan envisions would be relatively small, about 2,000 square feet, and mainly serve as meeting space. He identified county-owned property along Ehrlich Road as a potential site.

The county has said that it doesn't have enough money to support the ongoing operating costs of a new community center. The staff report outlining the various options Hagan proposed and cost estimates is scheduled for review on Jan. 5.

In the meantime, civic association members will meet soon to discuss Hagan's proposal and provide additional feedback, president Grant Walters said. He has lobbied against using all the money on the Little League.

The Citrus Park Little League is not seeking to divert funds from any particular project, says board member Steve Tenny.

"CPLL has never spoken against the funding for or construction of a Citrus Park Community Center," Tenny wrote in an e-mail to the St. Petersburg Times.

"We don't want to get in the middle of a fight for funding. Our need is simple and our request is straightforward. We are looking for a cost-effective approach to add a field to the park."

In order to carry out all facets of his proposal, Hagan says, the county would also use an additional $600,000 currently set aside for a skate park in northwest Hillsborough.

Last year, the county abandoned that project after residents turned sour on the idea.

"(Parks Director Mark) Thornton has tried valiantly to site this park only to meet opposition everywhere," county spokesman Steve Valdez said.

The commission would have to vote to use the money for Citrus Park projects. It will also have to approve final plans for the money initially slated for the community center.

Tia Mitchell can be reached at tmitchell@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3405.

Hillsborough commissioner proposes resurrecting plans to build Citrus Park community center 11/10/11 [Last modified: Thursday, November 10, 2011 3:30am]

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