RUSKIN — A plan to convert a soon-to-be-vacated Hillsborough County Fire Rescue fire station into a community center for the arts is moving closer to reality.
After the Board of County Commissioners gave the idea a thumbs-up last month, the not-for-profit Ruskin Community Development Foundation in charge of the project has been busy hammering out a business plan.
The group hopes to have a plan approved by the time firefighters leave the 101 First Ave. NE building in the spring, said the Ruskin foundation's president, Sandy Council.
Firefighters need the new station, at the northeast corner of Fourth Street SE and College Avenue, because the current one is in a flood zone, said a fire department spokesman. The new station cost $1.6 million in county capital funds.
Because of an agreement made when the Ruskin Commongood Society gave the current firehouse to the county in the '50s, the station is eligible to be given back to the community at no cost, provided there's a viable plan to use it.
The biggest expenses will be insurance and operations, which organizers hope to fund with donations and endowments, Council said.
She said the 21-member community group imagines a space for orchestral concerts, theatrical performances and classrooms for art workshops.
"We don't have anything like that down here right now," Council said, pointing to Ruskin's sparse downtown area. "We think this could really be the cornerstone of redevelopment."
She mentioned Ruskin's annual Big Draw, a monthlong celebration of drawing held in October, as evidence that the center would thrive. Art is important here, she said.
Council said concerts will be held in the station's three high-ceilinged truck bays. Offices and classrooms will be tucked inside air-conditioned living spaces. Outdoor patios could host movie festivals.
The vision only requires minimal renovations, she said.
At one point, community leaders considered using the firehouse as a "business incubator" to temporarily house start-up companies and provide business counseling classes.
And although arts and education seem to be taking the main stage of the project, Council said no idea is off the table.
Kim Wilmath can be reached at (813) 661-2442 or firstname.lastname@example.org.