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Controversial Riverview community center makes plans to be more accessible

Finishing touches were under way late last year on the Regent, a community center in Riverview that opened in January.

SKIP O’ROURKE | Times (2010)

Finishing touches were under way late last year on the Regent, a community center in Riverview that opened in January.

RIVERVIEW — Nearly five months after it opened, and after questions about just whom it was intended to serve, a community center paid for with public money is fashioning plans to be more accessible, a spokesman said Sunday.

The board of directors that oversees the Riverview center called the Regent will outline the plans it agreed to this weekend in a letter to the Hillsborough County Commission, the board of directors' attorney said.

According to lawyer Marshall Rainey, the board's response will include:

• Increasing the number of board members from seven to about 17 to include more representatives from the community.

• Holding quarterly meetings open to the public to hear local opinion and give reports about the Regent. The first such meeting may take place by June.

• Reviewing the fee structure for renting the Regent, particularly discounted or waived rates for nonprofit groups.

• Restructuring its website to list its directors and better advertise its community availability.

• Using task forces to reach out to the local arts council and nonprofit organizations.

"We're more than just a wedding space, more than just an event space," Rainey said. "We're out here. We're available."

The Regent opened in January, the culmination of years of campaigning for the community space and millions of dollars in government funds.

The 30,000-square-foot, two-story gathering spot also houses Hillsborough Community College classrooms and can serve as an emergency hurricane shelter.

Former state Senate President Tom Lee, R-Valrico, got the project rolling in 2006 by securing $2 million in state money.

Another $1.3 million came from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, given its use as a shelter.

HCC kicked in more. And the county devoted about $2.5 million in sales tax money.

Last week, the County Commission called for an investigation of the Regent's expenses.

Commission Chairman Al Higginbotham said he wanted to know whether county tax money that was supposed to be spent on construction paid for consultants, lawyers and taxes for the center.

He said he also wanted an accounting of why tax money was spent on seeming luxuries, such as statues, a marble facade and wood flooring.

Sunday, Higginbotham said he hadn't seen the board's plans but was eager to review them.

Critics also have questioned the high cost of renting the Regent, which some say prices out many local nonprofit and volunteer-based organizations.

The Regent's website lists rental fees ranging from $850 for one of the smallest rooms on a weeknight to $4,250 for the nearly 15,000-square-foot grand ballroom on a Saturday.

The site says a 25 percent discount is available to not-for-profit groups.

But Rainey said Sunday that the discount at times has been increased, and sometimes waived entirely.

Stephanie Wang can be reached at swang@sptimes.com or (813) 661-2443.

Controversial Riverview community center makes plans to be more accessible 05/15/11 [Last modified: Sunday, May 15, 2011 11:18pm]
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