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Plan includes $15-million Hillsborough soccer complex

TAMPA — Hillsborough County commissioners gave preliminary approval to a raft of parks projects Wednesday to be paid for with $40-million once pegged for a massive tournament sports complex.

Included on the list: a $15-million, souped-down version of what had been called Championship Park.

This one includes up to 30 fields mostly dedicated to soccer and suitable to tournaments, at a location still to be determined.

Parks director Mark Thornton told commissioners the park fills an unmet demand for soccer fields. Like the prior proposal, he said it could also raise money in fees and sponsorships that would help pay for other parks programs.

"I'm excited about the public-private partnership opportunities there," Thornton said. "I think there are some huge opportunities there."

Unlike the last go around, commissioners appeared to find the idea of a mini-Championship Park more palatable. Commissioners rejected colleague Jim Norman's initial $40-million proposal, saying it was a hard sell during tough budget times.

In contrast, commissioners unanimously agreed to discuss the issue further and plan to hold a public hearing in August. But they left open the possibility of altering it and other suggestions about how to spend the money.

"I don't want people to assume that if we support this, we support it as written," Commissioner Rose Ferlita said.

The defeat of the original proposal set off a scramble among commissioners and civic groups for the money dedicated to it. Parks officials met with interested groups and their own citizen advisory panel to craft a plan.

Norman said Wednesday that the project could get a boost, because a professional soccer team is considering building a small stadium for games in Hillsborough County. The stadium would not be at the same location, but raises the possibility of a partnership. He declined to elaborate after the meeting.

All told, the proposal earmarks $47.6-million, including money from other projects that now have been tabled. The money comes primarily from the half-cent sales tax known as the Community Investment Tax.

In other action

Commissioners approved having Chairman Ken Hagan sign an agreement between the county and National Hockey League over the pending sale of the Tampa Bay Lightning. The agreement essentially underscores that current owners Palace Sports & Entertainment will remain on the hook to reimburse millions in taxpayer subsidies should prospective owners OK Hockey move the team within the next seven years.

The Tampa Sports Authority approved a similar agreement Monday.

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

>>Fast facts

Where the money could go

The parks proposal earmarks $47.6-million, including money from other projects that now have been tabled. The money comes primarily from the half-cent sales tax known as the Community Investment Tax. The list includes:

• $2.5-million for entryway and other work on Veterans

Memorial Park along the Tampa Bypass Canal off U.S. 301.

• $3-million for the new Children's Museum in downtown Tampa, which should allow construction to begin.

• $2.5-million toward the Brandon Advantage Center,

providing cultural activities for children and adults.

• $500,000 for the Bob Sierra YMCA Teen Center

in North Tampa.

• $1.4-million to expand the parking lot at the University

Area Community Center.

Plan includes $15-million Hillsborough soccer complex 06/17/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 24, 2008 11:22am]
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