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East Tampa recreation center to get makeover

Mayor Jane Castor says old center will get $18 million overhaul and anchor East Tampa revival.

TAMPA — Mayor Jane Castor told a small assembled crowd at the Fair Oaks recreation center in Jackson Heights Wednesday that better times for the neighborhood lay ahead.

She unveiled her proposal to expand the center’s footprint extensively through purchasing adjoining private property. The center would have activities and options for both young and old, she said.

The project, which should be shovel ready within two years, will cost $18 million and anchor a remake of 34th Street that borders the center on the west.

Bike paths and slow-paced traffic will lead to the center, which has been criticized by residents and activists as having fallen into disrepair.

Council member Bill Carlson has kept the center’s plight on City Hall’s radar with near constant references to it being rodent infested, a charge that city officials have said isn’t true,

Carlson wasn’t at the news conference Wednesday at the center at 5019 N. 34th St., but the district’s council member, Orlando Gudes, was. Gudes had pushed last year for a new center to be built at Al Barnes Park, but said Wednesday that he’s glad he could fashion a compromise with Castor.

“Let’s get it done in one and a half years instead of waiting around for money (for both),” Gudes said. “This is a historic moment.”

The allocation of scarce city parks resources had divided many East Tampa residents. But activists like Michelle Patty and NAACP county branch president Yvette Lewis praised the proposal. Gudes, in brief remarks, told the crowd to put old disagreements aside and work together.

The details of the center’s overhaul will become clearer over the next year as community members work with the city to agree on the new center’s design, said Ocea Wynn, the city’s administrator of Neighborhood and Community Affairs.

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