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East Tampa cultural center gets $500,000 in county funds

The Hillsborough County Commission voted unanimously to give the money for the planned facility at Al Barnes Park.

TAMPA—Usually a multi-million municipal capital project takes years to pass from a glimmer in someone’s eye to a ribbon cutting.

Not if you’re Orlando Gudes. And you get County Commission Chairman Les Miller on board.

The Tampa City Council member has secured $2.5 million for an East Tampa cultural and senior center at Al Barnes Park, 2902 N. 32nd St in a matter of weeks.

Mayor Jane Castor adjusted her budget by $1 million after Gudes gave a dramatic plea for funds at the council’s first budget hearing earlier this month. His council colleagues have pledged to sign off on another $1 million when they convene as the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency in the coming weeks.

RELATED STORY: Gudes gets his cultural center

The last cash inflow came last week after the Hillsborough County Commissioners voted unanimously to allocate $500,000 toward the center.

Chairman Les Miller said he thought the project was a worthy one and hopes it can start a city-county partnership to improve city parks.

“First and foremost, there needs to be something in East Tampa. There hasn’t been anything put there in a long time,” Miller said.

What’s Gudes’ secret? After all, he was elected to his first term this spring, taking his seat May 1.

It helps to be the swing vote on a seven-member City Council often broken down between two emerging factions composed of Bill Carlson, John Dingfelder and Guido Maniscalco on one side and Charlie Miranda, Luis Viera and Joe Citro on the other.

To that end, Gudes also secured increase ambulance service for East Tampa with an administration promise to figure out how to make the “peak” hour service into round-the-clock coverage.

RELATED STORY: Gudes gets East Tampa better ambulance service

On Friday, Gudes took another victory lap.

“We are thankful for our Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners and their commitment to the residents of East Tampa. This Center will serve as a place of cultural enrichment for all of East Tampa. Dance, gymnastics, possibly martial arts, music, those are all things that help develop the minds of our youth and can lead to college scholarships,” wrote Gudes in a statement Friday.

The cultural center did appear to cause some friction in East Tampa when several residents who lived near the Fair Oak Community Center, 5019 N. 34th St., complained at a recent council meeting that their desire for a new or upgraded center had been leapfrogged by Gudes’ plan for Al Barnes.

But some of those same residents showed up at the second budget hearing this week to show support for the Al Barnes location. Gudes told the Times

“Although the center will be located in Jackson Heights, this center will serve as a place of enrichment for ALL of East Tampa. It will be the first of its kind here in East Tampa and I hope it is the beginning of more development to this part of town,” Gudes wrote.

Miller said the city and county need to work out an interlocal agreement for the money. He hopes it can serve as a template for greater future cooperation.

“We spend a lot of money on parks. Maybe this is a way to get a bigger bang for the buck,” Miller said. “This could be the start of something new.”