Local businesses were delighted to hear last week that the new Armed Services Reserve Center being built on the edge of town will bring a significant financial boon along with its soldiers and traffic.
The center will generate an estimated $50-million a year for the Pinellas Park area, said Col. Mitch Perryman, commander of the 53rd Infantry Brigade (Separate) of the Florida Army National Guard. Perryman will be the commander of the training center when it opens.
"The big winner in Pinellas County is specifically Pinellas Park," Perryman told members of the Pinellas Park/Mid-County Chamber of Commerce during the group's monthly breakfast meeting Wednesday.
Most of that will come from spending with local businesses, Perryman said. The training center will have no barracks, so personnel will have to stay in nearby hotels and motels.
The center, and its employees, also will buy food and gas from local vendors. Other companies will provide the center's utilities and will be hired for yard care and other such maintenance chores.
It will be a "big windfall for Pinellas Park," Perryman said.
"We can use that, especially small businesses. I thought that was fabulous," said Gene Lofgren, chamber president. "I was tickled to death with what he was saying. I never realized it was that big of a deal."
When the center opens late next summer or early fall, it will house 13 units from both the National Guard and Army Reserves for a total of about 1,800 soldiers. Of those, about 150 will be full time. The training center will be one of the few in the country to house both National Guard and Army Reserve units and will serve as a showpiece for other such facilities, Perryman said.
The Army National Guard is a state organization that is ordained by the Constitution (Each state shall have its own militia, etc.) and can be commanded by either the governor or by the president of the United States. The Army Reserve is a federal organization.
The units will be transferred from three outdated facilities: Fort Homer Hesterly Armory and Lovejoy U. S. Army Reserve Center, both in Tampa, and JF Campbell National Guard Armory in Clearwater. At the same time, Company C, 53rd Support Battalion will be transferred from St. Petersburg to Tampa.
The new training center is on about 58 acres of land on the northwest corner of 28th Street N and Grand Avenue in the Gateway Centre. Its 240,000 square feet will cost about $45-million.
"It's absolutely awesome," Perryman said of the facility. "I can't tell you how excited we are about it. It's like (being) a kid on Christmas morning."
Increased spending will not be the only benefit, Perryman said. The Guard is community-oriented and plans to be actively involved in Pinellas Park life.
Part of that, he said, will be youth programs to help at-risk kids.
Pinellas Park Mayor Bill Mischler said he'd recently driven by the center.
"It is absolutely amazing. It is beautiful. It is gorgeous. I couldn't believe it," Mischler said. "I'm happy they're going to be there."
Mischler said he was particularly pleased because of the Guard's community involvement.
"I think that's great," he said.
In fact, Mischler said his only concern was the possibility of noise from tanks or other equipment because the site is not far from the Mainlands, a senior community.
Perryman, who is in the process of being promoted to general, is a Florida native who began his career as a private in 1976.
Perryman, 49, graduated from Colonial High School in Orlando, earned a bachelor's degree in history from Columbia College, and a master's degree in strategic studies from the U. S. Army War College.
Perryman has been in the Active Guard and Reserve program since October 1978.
Perryman is married and has two daughters and four grandchildren.
Thirteen units will be located at the Joint Armed Forces Reserve Training Center:
HQ, 53rd Infantry Brigade (Separate)
HQ Company, 53rd Infantry Brigade (Separate)
Company A, 53rd Support Brigade
Company B, 53rd Support Brigade
253rd Military Intelligence Company
HQ, 32nd Transportation Group
HQ, 332nd Transportation
154th Judge Advocate Teams
174th Legal Support Office
641st Area Support Group
73rd Field Hospital
788th Medical Detachment
320th Military Police Company
Source: Col. Mitch Perryman
The main building of the combination National Guard-Army Reserve Armory nearing completion in Pinellas Park at Gateway Center Parkway. It will house the reception area and assembly hall.
A look at the new reserve training center
A $45-million Joint Armed Forces Reserve Training center is under construction in the Gateway Centre area of Pinellas Park. Located on about 58 acres at the northwest corner of 28th Street North and Grand Avenue, it will house National Guard and Army Reserve units. It will be one of the few training centers in the country that provides joint training for both Army reservists and National Guard members. When finished in July, it will be the most up-to-date training center in the country. Units will come from three outdated facilities elsewhere in Tampa Bay: Fort Homer Hesterly Armory and Lovejoy U.S. Army Reserve Center in Tampa and JF Campbell National Guard Armony in Clearwater.