ST. PETERSBURG — For some Shore Acres parents, the approach of summer means rising before dawn and positioning themselves in a line of folding chairs to snag a coveted spot for their child in the neighborhood’s recreation center program.
That could change in time for summer 2021. It’s when city architect Raul Quintana projects that a new, larger Shore Acres Recreation Center — an approximately $11 million project funded by Penny for Pinellas — could be ready to meet the demands of the neighborhood of about 2,200 homes.
Leisure services administrator Mike Jefferis said the new center will increase the number of children it is able to accept for the summer program by about 75.
“That’s one of our sites that reaches capacity very quickly,” said Jefferis, who began his career with the city at Shore Acres. “One of the things we’ll definitely enjoy with this new building is increased capacity.”
A new recreation center has been a years-long dream for the area’s residents. The original center dates back to 1964, when it was developed as a private facility at 4230 Shore Acres Blvd. NE. The city bought it in 1971.
“We tried to Band-Aid and bubble gum it together,” Jefferis said. “It’s the only rec center in our system that does not have a gymnasium. One of the things we have been challenged with was we’ve got a really small footprint for a park and we have a lot of requirements and demands from the community. ... This has been very citizen-focused and citizen-driven.”
The two-story building will be more than twice the size of the old one and include updated amenities, including a new pool, playground, gym and more space for adult classes.
Speaking at last week’s Development Review Commission meeting, David Delrahim, who until recently led the Shore Acres Civic Association, said he is “very passionate” about the project.
“There will be more room for the teen program. There is going to be meeting room spaces. There’s definitely going to be a play area outside for the kids,” he told the Tampa Bay Times. "It’s going to increase the number of parking spots. During some of my larger meetings, I’ve parked a block away on side streets.”
Plans call for 114 spaces for vehicles and 12 for bicycles. There are now just 52 parking spots. A section of the new L-shaped building will overhang the parking lot on the east side. The current building, which will be demolished, will remain open while the new 20,924-square-foot facility is built. There is praise for the project, but some neighbors have concerns.
One is a planned second entrance and exit. While drivers will continue to be able to arrive and leave from Shore Acres Boulevard NE, a second entrance has been added off 40th Avenue NE, not far from a four-way stop. Only right turns will be allowed from the 40th Avenue exit.
Safety is Jennifer Brouillet’s concern. She lives nearby on 14th Lane NE. “People driving in and out of Shore Acres already use our street as a cut through to get around the four-way stop next to the recreation center, often driving over the speed limit and causing concern for the safety of my children and the other young children on our street,” she said in a letter to the city.
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The 40th Avenue exit “will inevitably lead to more cars driving down 14th Lane NE to get to their homes in Shore Acres,” she said.
“We don’t believe that people are going to drive through the neighborhood,” Jefferis said, adding, however, that the city will evaluate residents’ concerns and do what it can “to continue to be good neighbors.” The 40th Avenue entrance is necessary, he said, to ensure smooth traffic flow and to accommodate buses, delivery and emergency vehicles that will enter and leave the recreation center. “We have really spent some time evaluating this,” he said.
Neighbors also worry about privacy. The city plans to build a taller wall and install narrower, opaque windows across from neighborhood homes, Jefferis said.
And writing to the city, homeowners Mark Bitkowski and Dr. Kim Faulkner declared that the new building’s size and height -- projected to rise 45 feet, 19 feet higher than the current center -- would make it “a monstrosity amongst the quaint St. Petersburg homes.”
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“I appreciate that this is going to be a big building, but when you look at the flood plain and what the community is demanding, we don’t have a lot of options,” Jefferis said of the new facility that will be built to meet current Federal Emergency Management Agency regulations.
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He said the city had considered moving the center from its current 2.4-acre site to the neighborhood’s Denver Park. “Unfortunately, while it’s a bigger park and there’s more opportunity to build, access is limited mainly to residential streets and we wanted to keep to the main thoroughfares," Jefferis said.
There is enthusiasm for the project. “Our center is outdated, unattractive and limited!” wrote longtime resident Mary K. Wilson. “Thank you for the efforts being made to build a new one.”