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Highway will lead to better ballpark

Things are looking a lot different around Town 'N Country these days as crews cut a swath through this northwest neighborhood to make way for a multimillion dollar highway.

But transportation officials promise that landscaping and a renovated ballpark will soon fill out the shorn look of the ravaged land.

"It's going to be very nice when it's completed," said Veterans Expressway spokeswoman Sylvia Alberdi, describing the native shrubs, trees and wildflowers that will line the 15-mile stretch of roadway.

And there is an added dividend: Transportation officials say a $2-million facelift will transform a 20-year-old ballpark at the corner of Eisenhower Boulevard and Independence Parkway into a state-of-the art sports complex.

Built in the early 1970s, Skyway Park is used by nearly 1,500 young people each year for football and cheerleading activities.

But in recent years, growth in the county had stretched the sports facility to its limits, said county parks and recreation director Ed Radice.

For a while, it looked as if the ball fields might be paved over to make way for the $320-million Veterans Expressway.

But when residents learned of the encroachment of the superhighway, they dug in their heels, enlisted the aid of county officials, and saved their neighborhood park.

"It's a much-needed facility," Radice said. That's why the county dogged expressway officials and made sure it would be properly maintained, he said.

Seven acres were shaved off the 35-acre field to make room for highway construction. But the reorganization of space has made for a better park, officials said.

"It will be more compact, better designed and better engineered," Radice said.

The state, which bought up the right of way for the road, paid the city of Tampa $800,000 for the land. Hillsborough County, which operates the park, was promised a $2-million renovation project, Alberdi said.

Planned improvements include orienting the two football fields in a different direction, upgrading four baseball diamonds, building a new concession stand and installing lights on the playing fields. Officials also want to add more parking spaces, restrooms, dressing rooms and press boxes, and improve drainage.

New tennis courts also will be built and a jogging path will surround the complex, which should be ready in time for the start of the 1993 football season, Alberdi said.

The expressway, scheduled to be finished by 1994, will stretch from the Courtney Campbell Parkway north to Dale Mabry Highway, providing an alternative north-south route to busy Dale Mabry.

Work began last month on a 2-mile stretch of road between Hillsborough and Waters avenues. Last week, the approximately 39,000 motorists who travel Eisenhower Boulevard each day began navigating around barriers as road crews closed various lanes for construction.

"Every effort is being made to limit the inconvenience as much as possible," Alberdi said, "but there will be times when that won't be the case."