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$900,000 community effort will transform ugly Swann Avenue Pond

Developer Brian Funk is engaged in the effort to revitalize the Swann Avenue Pond area. That’s Buster at his side.
Developer Brian Funk is engaged in the effort to revitalize the Swann Avenue Pond area. That’s Buster at his side.
Published Jul. 17, 2014

HYDE PARK

Yucky, mucky Swann Avenue Pond will soon undergo a million-dollar transformation into the Hyde Park Gateway.

In the fall, the block between Rome and Packwood avenues will be extensively landscaped and enclosed in wrought-iron estate fencing. The overgrown retention pond will be cleaned out and centered with a lighted fountain. New sidewalks will be poured and existing paths widened. Two shaded shelters and nine benches will be installed, including one painted red to thank a major donor to the project.

Two mayors, two neighborhood associations under five presidents and multiple government agencies have played a role in the redesign since 2009.

"The public-private partnership has a long history of consensus building," said David Vaughn, director of contract administration for the city of Tampa.

The Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority owns the Swann Avenue property; the city of Tampa maintains the pond and will provide up to $500,000. That sum will be matched by contributions of the Historic Hyde Park Neighborhood Association and Historic Hyde Park Preservation Inc., as well as individual donors, about $425,000 so far, funneled through Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful.

"It's a $900,000 to $1 million project with lots of moving pieces, various funding sources and government agencies," Vaughn said, "We need to do it right."

For years now, real estate developer Brian Funk, 38, and his rescue dog, Buster, have avoided the "inhospitable eyesore," on their daily walks, "90 out of 100 times" heading in the opposite direction of the pond adjacent to his Hyde Park condominium.

"It's the broken window theory," Funk said. "It goes unfixed and leaves people to believe nobody cares, so why should I?

"I finally tired of talking to myself about it, and decided to get involved."

The community effort tapped a well of expertise and civic pride when the fourth-generation Tampa native stepped up.

"I love my city, and I love what I do for a living," Funk said. His business interests include the 680-acre master-planned Stonelake Ranch in Lake Thonotosassa, a Texas wind farm, and two hotels in development in Orlando.

"It was a forgotten area built in the '70s for Crosstown and neighborhood runoff," said Del Acosta, president of the Historic Hyde Park Neighborhood Association. "And before that it was a Little League field. It's always been our goal to redevelop it. Brian came on board, chaired the committee and helped raise money along with other tireless workers."

In a city with among the highest pedestrian mortality rates in the nation, Funk expressed fears, especially for the safety of older walkers and parents pushing strollers to Hyde Park Village.

"It's not some obscure pond. It's essentially an urban retrofit on a major thoroughfare to South Tampa commercial hubs," Funk said.

Years passed as the stew of agencies debated options.

"With so many cooks in the kitchen, it was tough to get a collective buy-in," Funk said. His commitment includes personally sponsoring landscape architect David Conner's conceptual master plan, said Marylou Bailey, a retired business consultant and Historic Hyde Park Neighborhood Association board member.

"We held fundraisers — home tours and two patrons parties — building on our track record of raising money for Bern's Park and Kate Jackson Park," Bailey said. She was disappointed that WS Development, which purchased Hyde Park Village in September, chose not to participate. "But I'm optimistic for future community efforts," she added.

Enter Norma Gene Lykes, a Hyde Park philanthropist who enjoys renovating homes, usually recognizable by the red bench out front when she moves in.

In March 2013, a $250,000 check from the F.E. Lykes Foundation propelled the process.

"That changed more in three months than three years prior," said Funk, who has known Ms. Lykes since he was a childhood friend of her sons. "Without her, we would not be talking about this."

Lykes' contribution was prompted by the success of the nearby Swann Avenue Crosstown Underpass project, two blocks west of the pond. That $250,000 lighting and landscaping makeover started in June 2010 and finished, thanks to the Republican National Convention, just before visitors arrived in July 2012.

Funk figures he has more than 500 hours invested and "quite a bit" of cash.

"It's been rewarding and fun," he said. "Hopefully, it's something to be enjoyed by the immediate neighborhood and provide an example for other areas of the city."

Contact Amy Scherzer at ascherzer@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3332.

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