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Tentative Rogers Park deal reached

The City Council must approve the golf course management agreement with the YMCA, but it faces some opposition.

The Tampa-Hillsborough YMCA could spend as much as $500,000 less on improvements at Rogers Park Golf Course than originally estimated and the city of Tampa could end up repaying most of that back to the YMCA if it decides it no longer wants to manage the neglected course.

A draft management agreement between the YMCA and the city, which owns the course, calls for the city to pay the YMCA the depreciated value of capital improvements made to the course if the YMCA decides it no longer wants to manage the course. Either the city or the YMCA could terminate the agreement by giving 120 days of written notice to the other party. Bob Gilbertson, the YMCA's executive director, had initially estimated that the YMCA would spend between $1-million and $1.5-million in improvements at the course.

The agreement, details of which are still being hashed out, calls for the YMCA to make a minimum of $1-million in course improvements. The City Council must approve the agreement, and on Monday, council member Bob Buckhorn said that approval is far from a done deal.

Buckhorn said he does not like the way Tampa Mayor Dick Greco's administration arrived at a preliminary deal with the YMCA.

"At this point, I'm real uncomfortable with the way we went about this, coming to the patrons of Rogers Park, members of the African-American community, saying, "This is what we've done. What do you think?' " Buckhorn said. "I think the administration is going to have a very tough row to hoe to get this passed."

A meeting to discuss the course is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Orange Blossom Cosmetology Center at 3222 34th Street. James Ransom, grandson of the course's namesake, G.D. Rogers, said Greco has agreed to attend.

Ransom and other black community members have been sharply critical of plans to turn management of the course over to the YMCA, a private organization. They say the city should make the improvements needed at the course and retain management of it as Rogers always intended. For years, they point out, Rogers Park was the only place in the county where blacks could gather for recreation.

That history would be threatened by turning the park over to a private organization, they argue.

But Ron Rotella, a Greco aide who has been the mayor's point man in negotiations with the YMCA, said having the YMCA manage the course is a win-win situation for the city and community. The YMCA would pay for improvements and manage the course while the city would retain the right to have final say over proposed fee increases. Plus, Rotella said, the YMCA has agreed to honor the history of the course.

A provision of the agreement calls for the YMCA to "enhance the recognition of the cultural and historical significance of the course by providing a display honoring those who contributed to the development of the course."

It was during an effort to learn the exact roles of those involved in the course's creation, Rotella said, that the city learned it could not verify what many had long assumed to be fact: that it was Rogers, a prominent businessman, who gave the city the land the course now sits on.

Rogers family members questioned the importance of knowing who donated the land, and on Monday, neither Rotella nor Ransom knew more about where the land actually came from.

"They don't know who gave them the land?" Ransom asked. "That's mysterious."

Gilbertson said he would still like Rogers' contributions noted whether or not it can be firmly established if he donated the land.

Rogers Park is one of three courses owned by the city and managed by the Tampa Sports Authority.

The course badly needs upgrades, including irrigation improvements. But the water problem might be solved. The TSA is drilling two test wells across the Hillsborough River from the course to see if they can be used as a source of water to irrigate the course.

Henry Saavedra, the TSA's executive director, said the drilling cost about $7,500 and that Gilbertson has verbally agreed to pay for it.

If the wells can be used as a source of water for the park, however, it is not clear how much it will cost to maintain and operate them or who will pay for those tasks.

"We haven't discussed that," Rotella said. "It's our golf course. It would be good business for the city to have a source of water for the course, no matter who manages it."