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Rec center plans put bounce in spirits

They were told to wait patiently and they would get their chance. Residents who use Ross Norton Recreation Complex watched longingly as North Greenwood Recreation and Aquatic Complex went up just a few miles north, knowing their chance was coming.

Now, their day is arriving.

"It's worth waiting for," resident Lois Cromier said. The nearly 40-year-old Ross Norton rec center, nestled on Lake Belleview, on S Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, will be replaced with a new, $2.3-million building in October 2004, officials said.

The old pool will be renovated, a new skate park added and the basketball courts and picnic sites will be moved, boosting the project to $2.9-million. Construction on the project should begin in October.

From teens to grandmothers, people in the neighborhood are delighted, even if the groundbreaking is a few months behind from when the city projected earlier this year. But, the important thing, neighbors said, is that the project is under way.

"Long time ago, when all this got started, they (city officials) said they would do the north end first and now ours," said Duke Tieman, president of the area's neighborhood association."We're all excited now."

The project is funded by Penny for Pinellas, a 1-cent sales tax voters approved in 1997. In 1998, the city identified Ross Norton as one of the projects to adopt.

The new, 21,000-square-foot building will go up just a hundred or so feet from the shore of Lake Belleview, next to the current clay baseball fields. The new facility will be attached to the existing pool, instead of being separate as they are now. A fence will also border the facilities.

A fitness center, outdoor boxing ring, skate pro shop and a 10,000-square-foot indoor gymnasium will also be added.

Residents got a chance to see designs and ask city officials questions at a neighborhood meeting Wednesday evening. Officials set up colorful renderings and passed out floor plans.

"We're going to make this facility much nicer than we see now," said Leroy Chin, the city's park, planning and project manager. "When we get done with this, it will be the most dynamic thing in the city."

People had few questions during the hourlong meeting in the center's multipurpose room on 1426 S Martin Luther King Jr. Ave.

The room is far from dynamic. It has tattered white ceilings, dingy tile floors and rusty doors.

A neighborhood teen, Kendrix Anderson, said after the meeting that the only place to play is in the small game room, so he doesn't come to the center. But the new skate park to be built, that should bring him.

He will like the indoor basketball courts, too. "So when it rains, you can still play," said Kendrix, 13. Now, there are only outdoor, concrete basketball courts.

Others talked about the good a new center will do for the neighborhood.

"It will be a big improvement," said Lucille Dudley. "This facility is real . . ." She grimaces as her eyes scan the room. "Real rundown," she finally said. But as for the new center, "I think it's great."

Dudley has lived on the same street a few blocks from the center for more than 50 years and said the neighborhood has had a history of crime problems.

"I think it will help the neighborhood," she said.

Another resident said he thinks it will, too. Brian Costello, who moved to the neighborhood a few years ago, said he has noticed the positive difference the new North Greenwood rec center has made for that community.

"The kids have something to do; they're not just walking around anymore," Costello said.

Though he said the current center and park is "a gem in a really dark place" he's glad the new center will give kids a more attractive place to go.

"This is such a poor neighborhood, really. It's good to have a nice place to go," Costello said.

_ Angie Green can be reached at 445-4224 or agreensptimes.com.

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