LARGO — The project brought protests over the potential noise, traffic and influx of tourists in one of the most contentious City Commission meetings in recent memory.
But over the last year, buzz around the proposed tree-top adventure and zipline course has quieted to a murmur as construction, or anything tangible, has yet to come to fruition. So, what ever happened to TreeUmph! Blaze, the network of wooden platforms and obstacles planned to snake through the woods north of Highland Recreation Complex?
Recreation, Parks and Arts Director Joan Byrne said the city is still interested in the project, and TreeUmph! Adventure Course co-owner Aaron Corr said he is, too. There just won’t be any movement on it until at least next year.
"We will begin planning discussions again with the city in 2019," Corr told the Tampa Bay Times.
Corr, who founded the Bradenton-based business with his wife, Kathy, pointed to Hurricane Irma as the reason for the delay.
The storm knocked down 50 trees and damaged obstacles at the company’s second location in Hernando County just days before its scheduled opening in September. Despite the damage, Hernando County commissioners turned down Corr’s request to defer last year’s lease payment. The park opened in December.
The plan presented to Largo city commissioners in summer 2016 was that the city would lease the land to TreeUmph! and get a cut of the revenue. The course would be built in tandem with the Hernando course with an opening date slated for fall or early winter 2016.
But it hit two roadblocks as it moved through the city development process. On the verge of approving the lease in August, commissioners were blindsided by residents who lived near Highland protesting the course over noise and traffic concerns.
They also accused the city of doing little to publicize the project, a signal to Commissioner John Carroll, who ended up voting against the project, that someone in the city had "failed miserably along the way" to communicate, he said.
City officials reached back out to the public, slightly delaying the approval process. But even after a majority of commissioners gave it the green light, the course hit another roadblock a few months later when a study revealed that more restrooms would need to be added to accommodate the new attraction. The bill, estimated at the time to cost up to $20,000, would fall on Treeumph!
While the project followed the standard development process, Byrne said in hindsight she would probably call for a more in-depth review to make sure everything that needed to be done "would have been better understood at the outset."
With the timeline in limbo, talk of the Largo site died down as focus turned to the Hernando location, which began construction in May.
Some commissioners are still holding out hope the project will come to fruition. Mayor Woody Brown said he doesn’t mind waiting because he thinks the course will enhance the park. Commissioner Jamie Robinson said he was excited to hear TreeUmph! still wants to work with the city.
"It could be a great economic driver for the city of Largo," he said.
But the lack of action has gotten to the point where at least one commissioner doesn’t think the project will happen.
"I don’t think it’s going to get done to tell you the truth," said Commissioner Curtis Holmes, who voted against the project in 2016.
He pointed out that two issues have remained unresolved: the restrooms still need to be built, and residents still don’t want it.
Nancy Lamagna, a resident who lives a few streets away on Whisper Drive, echoed the concerns. She and her neighbors aren’t against the concept, she said, but they’d rather see it built somewhere else in the city.
After hearing the project is still a possibility, Lamagna said, "I guess we’re going to have to get our fighting boots on again."
Contact Kathryn Varn at [email protected] or (727) 893-8913. Follow @kathrynvarn.