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Board backs off efforts for cultural arts center

The volunteer group trying to build a cultural arts center in New Tampa has halted its efforts for now because there's a bigger show in town.

Politics.

"We all decided we were wrapped up in a political storm," said Graeme Woodbrook, president of the proposed center. "It wasn't the right time of the year to do what we were trying to do. We'll wait until after the November elections."

Woodbrook said he and New Tampa Cultural Center board members decided at a meeting last week to suspend their efforts _ three weeks after the proposed center was dealt two severe blows by the city of Tampa and Hillsborough County.

The Tampa City Council voted last month to approve $21,000 for a feasibility study for the center, but not before telling Woodbrook that the center's theater couldn't hold more than 350 seats. Several council members said they didn't want the cultural center to compete with downtown's Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center.

That afternoon, county commissioners approved setting aside 6 acres for the center across from Hunter's Green. But commissioners said that to qualify for the land, the center must have an endowment of $10-million and the city of Tampa must either pay $1.2-million as compensation for the county land or give the county 10 acres elsewhere in New Tampa for athletic fields.

After the city and county officials voted, Woodbrook said he appreciated getting the money for the study and the land reserved for the center, but he said the attached conditions most likely killed the project.

He said the board of the New Tampa Cultural Center decided to wait until after the November elections before making any further decisions. He blamed politics, especially from County Commissioner Jan Platt, who steps down in November, for the obstacles. Platt was among the officials who objected to the center's size.

Yet after November, the project's options are unclear.

Woodbrook said his group might poll New Tampa residents to find out what people want in the center. He said the project, which one study estimated would cost $25.7-million, has no definite price tag yet. He said a feasibility study will help determine how much it will cost, but Woodbrook said he wouldn't spend "one nickel" on that study until he has clarity on what New Tampa wants.

He said county commissioners and City Council members may have to be "re-educated" in another round of talks, but he said he didn't know how involved he would be in that process.

After initially sounding gloomy, Woodbrook said he was optimistic that the delay in the cultural center's fate will prove to be only an intermission _ not a curtain call.

"Hopefully, we'll get going in one direction or another," he said. "Frankly, limbo isn't a lot of fun."

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