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Center to have cultural focus

County officials unveiled plans Thursday night for a cultural arts center that will be the pride of Carrollwood.

Tinted glass rising two stories high will invite sunshine into its grand lobby. A 205-seat auditorium will dominate its interior, with balconies on both sides for sliding spotlights and a "surround-sound" system.

Outside, yellow brick sidewalks will lead visitors to a covered entrance, and the center's high green metal roof will stand boldly against the blue sky.

"This could be the nucleus of community spirit in our area," said Tom Jones, president of the Friends of Carrollwood Community Center. "We're doing something here that will affect our community for generations to come."

The meeting held Thursday at St. Mark's Episcopal Church was the last time county officials plan to hear comments from the public before they start construction to convert the church to a community center.

St. Mark's will vacate the building next February to move to a new sanctuary off Gunn Highway. Construction on the community center will start next summer and will be finished after about a year, said Jim Carver, the project manager.

The county has budgeted $1.6-million for the construction of the center at 13335 Casey Road. Friends of Carrollwood Community Center will raise money for additional bells and whistles, such as lighting, a sound system and possibly a baby grand piano for productions held there.

It will be the first community center in Hillsborough County to have a cultural rather than recreational focus.

There will be no basketball courts or athletic equipment on the property. No after-school programs will be housed in the building. This community center, instead, will accommodate town meetings, theater performances, art classes, dance and music recitals, and will provide rental space for private social gatherings.

The existing 19,000-square-foot church will be converted to a 25,000-square-foot community center with a 125-space parking lot.

The church's rear door will become the community center's front entrance. What is now the front of the church will be converted to a circular outdoor stage where people can sit under shade trees and enjoy Shakespearean performances.

"This is our first opportunity to deal with a cultural center," said Al Orr, a county manager who will help run the center. "I envision a lot of things happening at this center six days a week, with programs benefiting everyone from youths to seniors."

About two dozen homeowners attended the meeting. No one spoke against the Community Center plans.

"It's a great opportunity for us to have a meeting place and see things in the arts like plays and musicals," said Barbara Kime, a Carrollwood Village homeowner.

_ Tim Grant can be reached at (813) 269-5311 or at