TAMPA — There's good news for those who have fought for Tampa's historic but long-closed Cuscaden Park pool.
After saying there probably would be no money for the pool next year, Mayor Bob Buckhorn's administration said Monday it plans to budget $300,000 in 2015 to design repairs to the pool.
And in 2016, the city plans to budget $1.5 million more for construction. That means the pool might not reopen until sometime in 2017, eight years after the city closed it in 2009 because of leaks and high maintenance costs.
Still, neighborhood leaders who have lobbied to get city funding for the pool were elated.
"Oh, wow," V.M. Ybor Neighborhood Association president Kelly Bailey said. "That is awesome news."
This marks a big change in tone at City Hall. For more than a year, Buckhorn has all but dismissed the wisdom of repairing and reopening the pool, along with the depth of public support behind it.
On Monday, however, Buckhorn said Cuscaden is a worthy use of city funds.
"Having a pool is important to the neighborhood, but equally as important should be the investment we can make in saving a Tampa landmark," Buckhorn, who is out of town, said in a statement released through his office. "When we can do that and where it makes sense to, as I believe it does this year for Cuscaden, we will."
What has changed is the economy and how that affects Buckhorn's budget, which he will submit to the City Council on Thursday.
When city officials began working on the budget for 2015, they worried they might have a revenue shortfall of up to $15 million. That estimate later came down to $8.4 million, and Buckhorn recently said it was "in the realm of possibility" that the city might be able to close the shortfall without dipping into reserves — something it has done for several years.
As the economy has recovered, more money has become available for "strategic investments" like Cuscaden pool, city spokeswoman Ali Glisson said.
Fixing the pool, officials said, is consistent with their emphasis on elevating and sharpening Tampa's identity by restoring or coming up with new uses for historic city properties such as:
• The 109-year-old federal courthouse on N Florida Avenue, which last month opened as a 130-room Le Méridien hotel after a privately funded $26 million transformation.
• The city's long-dormant Water Works Park and the neighboring old pump house. The city is spending $7.4 million to make Water Works Park a busy hub of activity on the northern end of the Riverwalk, while restaurateur Richard Gonzmart is spending $5 million to renovate the pump house as Ulele Native-Inspired Food and Spirits.
• The Roy Jenkins Pool on Davis Islands, which is expected to re-open in late August after a $2.25 million renovation.
"The mayor is doing the right thing," City Council member Frank Reddick said. He had planned not to support Buckhorn's 2015 budget unless it included money for the Cuscaden pool. And he said he will press the mayor to accelerate the construction schedule. "I'm happy to see they're moving forward, but we've got to reduce (the schedule) by a year."
But Glisson said the project wouldn't happen any faster if construction funds were allocated in 2015 because the city doesn't have a detailed set of construction and engineering plans.
"You have to design it first anyway," she said. "It's not like if all the money was allocated, we could go to construction tomorrow."
As recently as last month, there was no commitment to go to construction at all.
In early June, Buckhorn's staff told the council they didn't expect to budget anything for the pool next year.
Officials did, however, come up with a list of more than a dozen possible projects at Cuscaden Park. Along with fixing the historic pool, the options included opening a splash play area at the park or converting the above-ground pool structure into a community center with a new pool nearby (estimated cost: $10.8 million).
Of those options, the city wants to focus on saving the historic structure, Glisson said. With that goal in mind, repairing the existing pool has the shortest construction timeline and, thus, the soonest opening date.
But the city's budgeting responsibilities won't end once the pool is fixed. Keeping it open year-round has an estimated operating cost of $455,000 a year.
Cuscaden Pool's unusual above-ground design is the work of architect Wesley Bintz. It was built in 1937 with funding from the Works Progress Administration.
Like the Roy Jenkins Pool, 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 few Bintz-designed pools are on the National Register of Historic Places, but many are no longer standing. While Cuscaden is one of those that remain, it has been mostly closed for 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 an unreliable filtration system made it too costly to keep open during the Great Recession.
Richard Danielson can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times.