Are Tampa’s parks safe from development? Mike Suarez wants to make sure

Published November 1 2018
Updated November 2 2018

TAMPA — Are Tampa’s parks safe from sale to a private developer?

Not as safe as they are in St. Petersburg, city attorneys told council members on Thursday. In Tampa, parks are protected by ordinance, not in the city’s charter, as they are in St. Petersburg, said Tampa assistant city attorney Rebecca Kert.

Still, Tampa isn’t losing any public green space, city officials emphasized at a City Council meeting Thursday.

At issue was a request by the administration of Mayor Bob Buckhorn to remove Yellow Jacket Little League Ball Field from the city’s list of designated parks.

The historic park at 2301 N Oregon Ave. hosted African-American Little League teams for decades. The city has not determined what will become of the 5.1 acre property, near the massive West River development planned for a historically black neighborhood just west of downtown.

It could become part of the private redevelopment. Or it could remain public.

Either way, there will be no net loss of parkland, city staffers said, because the Hillsborough School District conveyed more than 5 acres nearby to the city about a year ago. The land extended the west bank of the Tampa Riverwalk, from a point behind Blake High School to the Eugene Holtsinger Bridge on North Boulevard.

That stretch is part of Buckhorn’s plan to replicate the popular Riverwalk on downtown’s eastern bank on the other side of the river, creating a continuous path from North Boulevard to Bayshore Boulevard.

The Yellow Jacket Little League will be relocated to Calvin Taylor Park, 611 W Indiana Ave., just north of Woodlawn Cemetery. Within 45 days, work is expected to wrap up on refurbished ballfields, fencing, parking and other amenities, said Paul Dial, the city’s parks and recreation director.

City Council Chairman Frank Reddick asked whether the Yellow Jacket name will travel across the Hillsborough River to the new location.

That hadn’t been discussed, Dial said.

Too much of West Tampa’s black history has already been lost, Reddick said, adding that he played baseball at Yellow Jacket park growing up. It would be a "disservice" to the community for the name to disappear, he said.

In the past few years, 2,000 public housing residents have been displaced from the now-demolished North Boulevard Homes near Yellow Jacket. The historically black neighborhood is undergoing a dramatic huge transition, likely displacing more residents.

"They deserve to have the Yellow Jacket name on that park," Reddick said, "they deserve that."

Council member Charlie Miranda said the Yellow Jackets teams were perennial winners. A former Little League coach, he said he remembers one Yellow Jacket pitcher who was so dominant his opponents probably never saw the ball.

"At least the field should be named Yellow Jacket Field," Miranda said.

Council member Mike Suarez, who is running for mayor, said he thought the park system needs more protection overall.

Future council members may not understand that parkland might be sold off or paved over if it is removed from the designated list. Another part of the city code requires a voter referendum to convert city parks to private use but doesn’t apply to parks taken off the designated list.

"That’s what I’m a little bit afraid of," Suarez said.

He asked the city’s legal staff to prepare a report by Dec. 6 laying out the process for protecting parks from being redesignated or sold for private use.

Contact Charlie Frago at [email protected] or (727)893-8459. [email protected]

     
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