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Mayor moves Tampa Palms rec center a step closer

There's no place nearby for Olympic hopefuls to learn to tumble, flip and swing.

But that may change.

Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio has committed city dollars toward the design of a 14,000-square-foot recreation center possibly specializing in gymnastics and dance training.

"The mayor has made a personal commitment to me that we will have funding for this coming fiscal year," council member Shawn Harrison said Thursday night during a meeting of Tampa Palms homeowners and various city officials.

There's just one stipulation.

"With the caveat that this won't be a $5-million project," he added later.

The recreation center would be located next to the 40-acre New Tampa Community Park that opened last month and would be modeled after the Tampa Gym and Dance center in Seminole Heights.

The latter center, on E Sligh and N Florida avenues, is wildly popular and enrolls about 1,100 students, said Wayne Papy, the deputy director of Tampa's parks and recreation department.

"Our thoughts are to bring that gymnastics and dance center to Tampa Palms," he said.

"We have football, softball and soccer," added Harrison, a former gymnast. "We need something different.

"We want to have something Tampa Palms doesn't have already," he said. "We think that will be of great use out here."

This isn't the first time that such a center has been proposed. Two years ago, the city said a recreation center would be built near the park by 2003. But there wasn't any money to build it.

Officials don't know how much it would cost to build a recreation center in Tampa Palms, but the city recently made an 8,000-square-foot addition to the Seminole Heights center. The final bill was $900,000, Papy said. The Tampa Palms center would be 4,000 to 6,000 square feet larger.

"Cost is a significant issue," said Darrell Smith, Iorio's chief of staff.

Although the design of the recreation center is funded, a 5-acre, multiuse public park on land next to Interstate 75 is not. Tentative plans include a 1.5-acre dog park, a half-acre skate park and a 2-acre playscape or green space. The remaining acre will be devoted to parking and facilities.

Tampa Palms has a number of small private parks, but none on this scale. Only homeowners and apartment renters who pay annual fees are permitted entrance into those parks. In Area 3, where the proposed park will be built, there is a large concentration of apartment dwellers who are not subject to such fees. They have few, if any, places to go.

"There is a need for a park for these new residents to enjoy as well as all of us in the Tampa Palms area," said Patty Maney, who sits on the board of supervisors of the Tampa Palms Community Development District.

Maggie Wilson, a Tampa Palms CDD consultant, said that in conversations with neighbors, she always hears: "You need to find a place where I can take myself, my children, my dog."

The city already has three dog parks: Al Lopez Park on N Himes Avenue, Davis Islands on Severn Avenue, and Gadsden Park on S MacDill Avenue. But "this is a great opportunity to have something within walking distance," said Randy Marlowe, a Tampa Palms Owners Association village representative who is spearheading a dog park focus group.

Marlowe took an informal poll of those gathered in the Compton Park Recreational Facility to see what percentage were pet owners. Nearly everyone raised their hands.

"My dog voted for a dog park and all his friends did, too," quipped David Reed, a Stonington Village resident.

To get the ball rolling, Tampa Palms developer Warren Kinsler, who owns the parkland, must first deed the property to the city.

"I'm ready, willing and able whenever the city wants it to be deeded over," he said. "It's always been designated for parkland. It will be parkland."

Afterward, the city must determine how much of the 5-acre park is usable property.

The city doesn't begin formalizing a list of potential projects for the next fiscal year until March or April. And it won't decide which projects have been approved until September.

But Harrison is confident that the park will come.

"We're going to do it," he said. "We need to take care of No. 1."

_ Rodney Thrash can be reached at 269-5313 or rthrashsptimes.com.

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