The city's soccer program will get a boost because it literally got bailed out by a gift from the county.
City officials say work is set to start in July to build six tournament-sized soccer fields at Ellis-Methvin Park as an alternative to the Hillsborough Community College fields the city now uses for soccer.
"We're hoping to have the fields ready by December," Recreation & Parks Department director Jack Holland said.
A couple of years ago, officials were hoping for a miracle.
Engineers had discovered serious drainage problems at Ellis-Methvin that they traced to the site's soil composition.
A former orange grove across from the Otis M. Andrews Sports Complex, the area fills with water even days after a thunderstorm.
"You can see pools of water. There's too much clay in the soil," Holland said.
Addressing the problem would have meant a costly and labor-intensive process of laying sand, crushed stone and a patchwork of perforated pipes to drain away the runoff.
Officials thought the project was sunk, or least significantly delayed.
Estimates to tackle the drainage work ran from $500,000 to $600,000 in-house.
Having a contractor come in to perform the work was out of the question.
"We asked for bids and the lowest one came in at $1.5 million," city engineer Brett Gocka said.
Meanwhile, the city's main youth soccer program had become wildly successful, growing from 177 youths in 1977 to more than 1,200 today. Another program called the Lancers draws an additional 200 players.
Then the city approached Hillsborough County and two years ago the county agreed to contribute $600,000 toward the project — enough to cover the drainage issue.
Indirectly, it also covers another potential headache, Holland said.
Because the city doesn't have adequate fields to host youth soccer, it borrows fields at HCC's Andrews Complex. Were the college ever to expand onto those fields, the city's youth soccer program could get bumped.
Ellis-Methvin has two soccer fields now, but at 110 yards long they're 10 yards too short for tournament play and get used mostly for practice, Holland said.
"Having those extra fields now will allow us to run tournaments," he said. "And if the college ever expands, we'll have the fields for them."
In addition to the six fields, the project includes parking for 400 cars. Whether the city sods the fields, which it prefers, or scatters grass seed will depend on how much cash is left after the drainage and top soil are installed, Gocka said.
The city would like to add a concession stand, restrooms and lighting for nighttime play, but Holland said that's not in the budget.
"That's down the road," he said.
Rich Shopes can be reached at (813) 661-2454 or firstname.lastname@example.org.