Wednesday, February 21, 2018
News Roundup

No money expected in 2015 budget for Tampa's historic Cuscaden pool

TAMPA — The historic Cuscaden Park pool faces at least two more summers sitting cracked, dry and empty, with no money expected to be budgeted for it before 2016.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn's staff told City Council members Wednesday that they don't anticipate budgeting anything for the pool, closed for more than four years, in the 2015 budget.

But after being pressed this year to come up with a plan for the pool, Buckhorn's administration gave the council an 11-page report outlining more than a dozen possible projects at Cuscaden Park in the V.M. Ybor neighborhood.

"This is a starting point for a larger conversation," mayor's spokeswoman Ali Glisson said. "Whatever is decided, our over-arching goal is to make sure it's an active, highly used space."

At the low end of the range: doing nothing with the above-ground pool but spending $1 million to build a splash park next to it. Fixing the pool could cost an estimated $1.5 million.

At the high end: transforming the pool structure into a community center and building a new 50-meter pool with a competitive diving basin where Cuscaden's soccer field is now. Cost: $10.8 million.

But it is too soon to put money aside for anything, Glisson said, especially with the city looking at a potential revenue shortfall of $10 to $15 million as it starts to put together the 2015 budget.

"Those ideas are too rough, too preliminary," she said. "You add the budget shortfall to that and it's just not the right time. We're just not ready now to commit funding to it."

Buckhorn should reconsider, said council member Frank Reddick, who has pushed for action on the pool.

"I was very disappointed," he said after his meeting with Buckhorn's staff. At a minimum, he said, the city should budget $1 million for a splash park and still look to reopen the pool someday.

"Those people in the V.M. Ybor area have been without a pool going on five years," he said. "The kids didn't cause the deficit. You can't punish these kids because the city's running a deficit."

V.M. Ybor Neighborhood Association past president Kim Headland called the news "incredibly disappointing."

"It's a landmark structure within the city of Tampa, and you'd hope that the administration would give it a priority," she said. "It's been a major issue for our community to not have access to a pool."

But Glisson said there's "actually an abundance of local pools for residents," noting that the city has mapped at least a dozen pools within a mile of Cuscaden Park, including the city's Cyrus Greene Park pool, as well as pools at multi-family residential complexes and Tampa Housing Authority properties. That, she said, somewhat negates the "potential usefulness of returning to a community pool without additional improvements to activate the space."

For now, Buckhorn's staff is making no recommendations about a preferred option to the City Council, which is scheduled to discuss the pool today.

Designed by architect Wesley Bintz, Cuscaden Pool was built in 1937 as a Depression-era project.

It is oval-shaped, with bathhouses around the perimeter of the pool below the deck. Red bricks and blue-and-white trim give it a stadium feel. Geometric lettering on the front adds an art deco touch.

A handful of Bintz-designed pools have been added to the National Register of Historic Places, but many are gone.

Cuscaden is one of the few that remain, though it has been closed more than it has been open during the past two decades.

In 1997, the city closed the pool because of leaks. In 2005, the city spent $2.5 million on repairs. In 2009, the city closed the pool again when cracks, leaks and a glitchy filtration system made it too costly to keep open as the recession hit City Hall.

And there's still little money available for capital improvement projects, council member Mike Suarez noted.

"There are no good solutions to this, because, frankly, it was screwed up the first time it was done, which was before we were elected," Suarez said. He likes alternatives that would preserve the pool's historic outer structure, but, "I'm not sure where we're going to go with this."

Several council members have worried about "demolition by neglect" — the risk that the pool will sit so long and deteriorate that it will be impossible to save.

"They told me that right now, it is as bad as it's going to get and there's no anticipated degradation beyond what is there … not for another three years," council member Lisa Montelione said.

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