RIVERVIEW — In 2012, critics will likely look to a highly scrutinized events center to make good on promises to polish its tarnished image.
After a year of audits and cries of mismanagement, the nonprofit board that operates the Regent has tried to assuage concerns about its ability to run an events center built with nearly $7 million in public dollars.
In a Nov. 22 letter, the chairwoman of the Brandon Community Advantage Center declined an offer from its landlord, Hillsborough Community College, to assume operations at the Regent.
"While we appreciate the college's offer to assume full operational responsibility for The Regent," wrote chairwoman Terry Curry, "the BCAC Board feels strongly that it undertook this responsibility and would prefer to see that the operational structure remains in its present form."
Citing its experience running the Trinkle Center in Plant City, HCC formally proposed the takeover in October. It came after several previous discussions, according to college spokeswoman Ashley Carl, and remains a standing offer.
The college owns the building, holding classes in the lower level while leasing event space to the BCAC. Carl has previously called the college's $750,000 payment for the Regent "a very good deal." She reiterated this month that it was a wise investment but added a caveat: "There isn't any construction project that's worth losing public trust over," Carl said.
The Regent's board agreed to repay the college $366,000 in unused and questionably spent funds. That's in addition to $35,000 that the board owes in reimbursements for the county's $2.5 million contribution to the center.
The audit of those funds, released in September, also spurred a review of the county's funding process for nonprofits. County audit director Daniel Pohto faulted county commissioners for their haste in approving the deal, saying there wasn't enough attention paid to ensuring proper review.
As of earlier this week, the board had yet to answer a list of follow-up financial questions from the county's chief financial administrator.
In October, the BCAC announced new community programming, including monthly open-house tours and discounted weekday rental rates for nonprofits.
But even as outreach ramps up at the Regent, one of the board's grandest gestures of creating more accessibility has fallen flat: It has held just one of the quarterly public meetings promised in a May as an initial response to criticisms.
A second quarterly meeting should have taken place in September but was postponed amid spending inquiries. Though planned for December, it has yet to be rescheduled on the Regent's website.
The board's attempt to expand its membership also appears to have presented a challenge. Another Nov. 22 letter from BCAC chairwoman Terry Curry sought help from the County Commission to appoint additional board members and suggested having a commissioner serve as well.
Curry did not return a message seeking comment. The Regent's executive director, Kristen Kerr, did not return a request to comment on bookings, profits and the center's community events.
The board is not alone in pledging action without timely follow-through. After the September audit, county commissioners floated the idea of a task force to guide the Regent's board. Commissioner Sandy Murman was tapped to lead it and said the group would hold public meetings.
None took place. In a message Dec. 15, Murman said, "I am not involved with the discussions any longer. I reached more or less an impasse trying to get it resolved, so staff has taken it over and is looking through the options of what kind of actions we're going to take on this issue."
Murman said she had been hoping the Regent's board would accept the deal with HCC to transfer management to the college.
Stephanie Wang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 661-2443.