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This Hillsborough sports park idea is different. Yeah, right

Ever wonder why some folks get cynical about government? Consider the case of what sure looks like the stealth sports park.

Maybe you remember it: Hillsborough County Commissioner (and notably, 2010 state Senate hopeful) Jim Norman had a vision.

He looked east, toward 425 acres of rural land near Plant City, and there he saw a glorious, sprawling amateur sports complex with lots of multi­purpose fields and facilities.

Some thought Norman's "Championship Park" a vanity project. But Norman contended it could pay for itself, hosting tournaments from regional to national, maybe even a minor league team.

Putting aside whether this would have been a really expensive parting gift for a popular politician about to leave his post, the truth is Norman's project might have been a nice perk in better economic times.

Kind of like you or me buying a summer home at the beach instead of worrying about how much movie tickets cost, or dining nightly at Bern's rather than stressing over the price of groceries.

Sweet, if you can afford it.

Questions were raised about sprawl, about a consultant's contention that such a venture could make money.

But the most glaringly obvious snag was the $40-million price tag and the very bad timing.

Why in the world, people wondered, were we even talking about such a luxury when local governments were busy belt tightening and talking layoffs and service cuts?

And so the sports park came up for a vote at a commission meeting in October. Predictably, most citizens who spoke came out against it.

No, we don't want to spend the money.

No, we don't want to take the risk.

And, finally, no from each of Norman's fellow commissioners, with even his board buddies unwilling to brave the political fallout to stand by him on this one. No, no and no.

And so Norman's dream died with the vote.

"From the bottom of my heart, kids lost today," he said sorrowfully, and it was over.

Over?

Did I say over?

The Times' Bill Varian reported this week that the county Parks Department's pending master plan has a little something in there about evaluating "the feasibility of constructing a large, revenue-generating sports facility."

Well, that sounds familiar.

The head of the Parks Department says this is absolutely not Championship Park II, Keeping the Dream Alive. He says it would likely be smaller than what Norman had in mind.

For his part, Norman says he is not the man behind this latest.

Interestingly, he also confirmed that he recently spoke to Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio about using some land for a revenue-generating park out where the city owns 400

acres. This has to do with a city-county partnership, he said.

"A park is a park is a park," Commissioner Rose Ferlita said this week. "We can't afford it."

Well said. Why handing over a chunk of change we can't spare for something we don't need should sound any better seven months after that resounding "no" vote is a mystery.

No wonder some folks get cynical about politics. Particularly when we get the distinct feeling we've heard this one before.

This Hillsborough sports park idea is different. Yeah, right 05/08/08 [Last modified: Friday, May 9, 2008 6:57pm]

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