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Hopes for New Tampa Cultural Center live on

New Tampa residents have been hoping for nearly 15 years that an arts and cultural center would rise on 17 acres of vacant land along Bruce B. Downs Boulevard.

Now, with a private developer ready to build the center as part of a larger residential-commercial development, supporters of the project are awaiting word of a ground-breaking. But county officials say residents will have to wait a while longer.

The project is still in what Hillsborough County officials call in “inspection period,” during which the developer and the county work out details of the site plan, says Josh Bellotti, county real estate and facilities services director. That period ends July 30.

After that, Bellotti says the development enters an “approval period” ending Jan. 9 so the developer can get necessary rezoning and final site approval from the city of Tampa. The property, across from the upscale Hunter’s Green housing development, is owned by the county but lies in the Tampa city limits. 

Last July, county commissioners approved a real estate purchase agreement with developer Hunters Lake Tampa LLC for just over $2 million. In addition to the sale of the land, the agreement calls for Hunters Lake to construct public amenities and infrastructure valued at $2.17 million.

The county and developer will close on the property in February, Bellotti says.
 
Doug Wall, founder and director of the New Tampa Players performing troupe, says he and other residents met six weeks ago with county Commissioner Victor Crist and a representative of the county Parks, Recreation and Conservation Department. Crist has been a prime proponent of the project.

“They are working on the site plans,” Wall says. “We were supposed to get together again and give input on floor plans, but I have not heard anything since that meeting.”

Crist could not be reached for comment. 

Wall says the cultural center will cover about 20,000 square feet and include a theater with just under 300 seats. It has not been decided whether the seating will be permanent or removable so the space can host other pursuits when not in use as a theater. The building could be expanded later to 30,000 square feet by adding a second floor, according to county plans.

In addition to drama, the center will also house classrooms for music, dance and visual arts.

The New Tampa Players have been lobbying the county and city of Tampa governments for a cultural center since 2000, Wall says. Though the city paid for studies showing a need for such a center, neither local government would come up with the $7 million to $10 million needed for construction.

In 2009, Commissioner Ken Hagan convinced commissioners to appropriate land for the center, however, there were “strings,” Wall says.

“We had to raise the money up front,” he says. “We had to have a business plan approved by the county.

“Basically, for a small nonprofit, it made it impossible for us to do anything,” Wall says. “It died out until Victor Crist took over the project and wanted to make something happen.”
The residential-commercial development will be on 17 buildable acres out of an 80-acre county-owned tract. The rest of the area is either wetlands or will be used as a water retention area for drainage off Bruce B. Downs Boulevard. 

Funding for the center is likely to be discussed during county budget hearings next month. In past meetings, Crist says the project would need $7.5 million in county funding.

Read more articles by Mike Salinero.

Mike Salinero is a feature writer for 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.
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