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Golf course plan remains sound

Tampa Mayor Dick Greco is not a racist, and that opportunists would make such a reckless allegation shows how far the debate over the management of a historically black golf course has strayed.

Some black residents oppose Greco's plan to allow the Tampa YMCA to manage the city-owned Rogers Park Golf Course. Under the deal, the YMCA would invest more than $1-million toward immediate improvements and use the course to expand the YMCA's golf program for urban kids.

The proposal makes sense, yet opponents are trying to scuttle the plan before it reaches Tampa's City Council. In the latest twist, opponents claim Greco was rude and condescending at a meeting of residents who oppose the plan. Said Otis Anthony: "This is about whether Mayor Greco respects the African-American community."

No, it isn't. The issue is whether Greco's plan is good for Tampa. The mayor's way of dealing with critics is another issue. He often is condescending to people who oppose him _ white, black, it doesn't matter. Residents in Tampa Heights, Ybor City and around the Hyde Park historic district have made the same complaint. Greco probably could have handled the matter better, especially given the place Rogers Park has in the history of Tampa's black community. But let's not confuse the mayor's style with the substance of his plan.

Opponents cannot challenge the merits of Greco's plan. Under the deal, the YMCA would build a memorial reflecting the black history of Rogers Park. It would create a mechanism for public control of the rates that golfers pay. The city would retain ownership, while the course would receive improvements it desperately needs.

The city would not sever its ties to Rogers Park by having the YMCA manage the course. Indeed, the deal is attractive because the sports authority has done so little at Rogers Park. The fear about rising rates is hollow, too, for the City Council would have to approve any fee increase. And why would the YMCA risk its investment by charging golfers more than a competitive rate to play on a substandard course?

Whether Greco can salvage the plan is a political question, though the city has many options, from creating a citizens' oversight committee to splitting the costs with the YMCA. Council member Gwen Miller, who is supposed to represent east Tampa, should help referee the dispute, for some opponents have raised legitimate questions and appear open to a reasonable plan.

The course, however, belongs to the city, not to the self-appointed heirs of Rogers Park. Greco should move ahead with his plan. Hopefully Greco has learned a lesson about how people outside his circles view the mayor's approach to dealmaking. It is too bad some critics went a step further by smearing the mayor with inflammatory language that advances division, not a public cause.

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