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Hillsborough park projects get $50.6M

TAMPA — Out of the ashes of Championship Park will spring upgrades and expansions to dozens of other Hillsborough County recreation centers.

And also a mini-Championship Park.

Hillsborough commissioners Wednesday approved a host of enhancements to county parks using $40-million initially earmarked for Commissioner Jim Norman's doomed proposal for a tournament-caliber complex that would attract regional and national amateur competitions.

Commissioners also sweetened the pot with an additional $10.6-million, in part from other projects that will now be deferred, enabling a construction binge at county parks over the next three years.

The highlight is a planned $15-million amateur soccer complex featuring at least two dozen fields at a location still to be determined.

"We want to be the center of the universe for soccer," said Hills­borough County parks, recreation and conservation director Mark Thornton. "Fifteen million is still going to build a very nice facility."

The vote was unanimous on most of the spending package. However, Commissioner Rose Ferlita voted against spending money on the sports complex, as well as another $250,000 for upgrades at the private Cuban Civic Club in Town 'N Country.

Like governments across the state, Hillsborough County has been struggling to cut spending due to voter-approved property tax reductions. However, this spending spree comes compliments of future collections from the half-cent community investment tax.

Norman had previously won tentative approval from the rest of his board to spend on a sports megacomplex in eastern Hillsborough that he dubbed Championship Park. His idea was to create an amateur sports tourism draw that would actually turn a profit.

However, it ran into opposition as a symbol of runaway county spending and as an attempt by Norman to cement his legacy as a parks champion.

Since then, Polk County officials have finalized plans to build a similar complex. Meanwhile, a private group has announced that it plans to build a private soccer stadium that will be home to a professional team.

Norman urged parks officials to work closely with the group to look for ways to collaborate with stadium backers in coordinating events at the county's planned soccer complex.

"I hope our parks and rec folks are thinking along those lines," Norman said.

Money earmarked Wednesday included $3-million toward construction of the Glazer Children's Museum downtown and a $3-million relocated trail head at the Hillsborough entrance to the Suncoast Parkway bike trail. The new trail head is needed because the current parking lot will be removed when entrance ramps for the Veterans Expressway are built near Lutz Lake Fern Road.

There's another $2.5-million for expanding the Veterans Memorial Park in east Hills­borough and $15.3-million for lighting, storage buildings and other enhancements to more than a dozen other parks.

"It will let us finish parks that have been completed but don't have lights and bathrooms," Thornton said.

Bill Varian can be reached at varian@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3387.

>>FAST FACTS

Park project costs

Parks spending approved Wednesday:

Veterans Memorial Park: $2.5-million

East Hillsborough Therapeutic Equestrian Center: $500,000

Wheelchair-softball/Miracle League fields: $500,000

Bypass Canal Rowing Facility: $600,000

County soccer complex: $15-million

Athletic storage buildings (10 parks): $1-million

Concessions/restroom facilities (eight parks): $1.25-million

Miscellaneous enhancements: $13-million

Gym additions (two parks): $4-million

University Community Center parking expansion: $1.4-million

Suncoast Parkway bikeway trail head: $3-million

Temple Terrace: $450,000

Plant City: $600,000

Glazer Children's Museum: $3-million

Lowry Park Zoo: $500,000

Friends of Plant Park: $65,000

YMCA: $500,000

Brandon Advantage Center: $2.5-million

Cuban Civic Club: $250,000

Hillsborough park projects get $50.6M 08/06/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 12, 2008 2:42pm]
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