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YMCA pursues plans for south branch

RIVERVIEW — A proposed YMCA that could potentially house the largest Y membership in the county got a thumbs up from residents this week.

Most attending an information meeting Tuesday near the proposed site at Vance Vogel Park expressed happiness about the full-service recreational complex.

Paul Dufraine of Riverview, father of 2-year-old triplets, said he can't wait to see the walls rise on the building, which planners estimate will to cost $6 million to $8 million.

"If I had $6 million to give, I'd write the check right now," Dufraine said after the meeting Tuesday. He and others of the approximately 30 people who turned out for the meeting said the South Shore area is long overdue for services such as the Y.

The comments reinforced what Tampa Metropolitan Area YMCA chief executive officer Tom Looby already knew from the results of a 2010 survey: The nearest full-scale YMCA in Valrico is too far to drive for people in Apollo Beach, Ruskin and much of Riverview.

Looby said after the meeting the study indicated a YMCA built near Interstate 75 and Big Bend Road could attract as many as 6,000 families.

"That would be our biggest Y," he said. The Tampa YMCA oversees 18 branches in Hillsborough and east Pasco counties.

The county-sponsored meeting initially set out to focus on the location, but most people attending showed more interest in what the facility would include. Looby said that would depend on community interests and the amount of money that can be raised. He said groundbreaking is probably at least four years away.

Two or three swimming pools are expected to be part of the plan, along with soccer, lacrosse, and T-ball fields and a 35,000- to 40,000-square-foot main building.

Looby and Kurt Gremley of Hillsborough's Real Estate Services cautioned that the project is still in preliminary stages. For example, the county-owned site of 30 to 35 acres just northeast of Bullfrog Creek and Old Big Bend roads contains some land bought with taxpayer funds earmarked for preservation.

Gremley said the land was purchased to obtain a bigger wilderness tract but was never deemed worthy of preservation. The county's Environmental Lands Acquisition and Protection Program committee has recommended that the county reimburse about $100,000 for the piece to the preservation fund. Gremley said that request may go to county commissioners later this month, along with a report on Tuesday's meeting.

Looby said the Y would work to complement existing youth sports programs at the park, and planned improvements could help a drainage problem for the fields at Vance Vogel.

The county has set aside about $2 million to jump-start the project and would lease the land to the YMCA for a nominal sum. Mary Beth Sultenfuss, owner of Apollo Beach Racquet and Fitness Club, said she objected to taxpayer money fueling the project for the nonprofit, which, unlike private facilities, does not pay taxes.

Laketra Claiborne of Riverview, attending with her 6-year-old daughter, Zoe, said private fitness clubs don't usually offer programs like the YMCA's that allow parents and children to exercise at the same time.

Looby said the county contribution is merited because the YMCA fulfills a public purpose, providing services to all regardless of ability to pay. He said one in three YMCA members countywide receives discounted services, accounting for more than $7 million in waived fees last year.

Susan Green can be reached at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

YMCA pursues plans for south branch 02/02/12 [Last modified: Thursday, February 2, 2012 3:30am]

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