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Town 'N Country project transforms wasteland into green space

Rob Gamester and his wife, Fran, enjoy a moment in Shimberg Gardens community park, which they helped to bring to Town ’N Country.

SKIP O’ROURKE | Times

Rob Gamester and his wife, Fran, enjoy a moment in Shimberg Gardens community park, which they helped to bring to Town ’N Country.

TOWN 'N COUNTRY

Fran and Rob Gamester recall when the 4 acres near the Town 'N Country library was charmless wasteland, a patch of bare dirt with no shade.

Virtually the only person either can recall trying to have fun out there was a kid tearing around on an all-terrain vehicle.

"Nobody wanted to go out there to play because of the sand spurs," said Fran Gamester, president of the Town 'N Country Garden Circle. "It was a nothing. It was an eyesore."

It's more inviting now, thanks to a $1 million Hillsborough County project to create the Shimberg Gardens community park.

Named for the family that developed Town 'N Country, the park has a hundred newly planted young trees, nearly double the number originally planned. Most are native to Florida: red maple, eastern redbud, southern live oak, bald cypress, slash pine, long-leaf pine, winged elm, dahoon holly, southern magnolia and southern red cedar.

It also features colorful splashes of flowering shrubs, a shady gazebo and a large grassy space for community events.

"We wanted to have a really nice park, and I think we've accomplished it," said Rob Gamester, community projects chairman for the Town 'N Country Garden Circle, which has worked with other community groups and the county on the project. The garden circle, along with the Town 'N Country Optimist Club and half a dozen other civic associations, has raised about three-quarters of $100,000 earmarked for enhancements to the park. The park's roots go back more than a decade. In the late 1990s county officials asked Town 'N Country residents to talk about writing a community plan that would guide how their community evolved. High on the list of priorities was a town center, a place that could bring people together, spur redevelopment and inspire civic pride.

Over the years, ideas for what became the Town 'N Country Commons came and went: The parking garage, offices and townhomes were out. Eventually, a new $10.9 million building became home to the Town 'N Country Regional Library, a Head Start child care center and a senior center.

The commons, which has a brick facade and tall windows reminiscent of an old Tampa cigar factory, is at 7606 Paula Drive, a block north of Hillsborough Avenue between Hanley Road and Town 'N Country Boulevard.

When it opened nearly two years ago, the commons had a kids playground, a retention pond and the gazebo, but the rest of the park was still bare.

Completing the park took more than a year longer than expected. Along the way, the county changed contractors, but it also upgraded some features. For example, instead of planting young trees in 25- to 35-gallon containers, it went with larger specimens, in the 35- to 65-gallon range, said Israel Grajales, the project manager for Hillsborough County.

It has become a popular destination for retirees from the senior center, said Jaime Rodriguez, 70, of Town 'N Country.

"Now," he said, "even if we don't feel like walking, we walk anyway, because it's so beautiful."

Richard Danielson can be reached at Danielson@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3403.

Town 'N Country project transforms wasteland into green space 09/09/10 [Last modified: Thursday, September 9, 2010 5:30am]
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