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Small patch of park space will have to do

The last city park in New Tampa is just a patch of woods and may not be sufficient for ball fields.

By JOHN BALZ, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 3, 2002


TAMPA PALMS -- Five acres in Tampa Palms. That is all the park space remaining in the city's portion of New Tampa.

And city officials are unsure whether they can build athletic fields on the land. It might be too heavily wooded.

As sports leagues and recreational groups grow, residents have made it clear that green space is one of their biggest concerns.

Now, after a decade of rapid growth, residents and city officials will have to work with what they've got.

"After that (space), there is nothing left," said City Council member Shawn Harrison. "The city doesn't have the power to force developers to hand over more land."

Which means if the needs of future New Tampa athletes are going to be met, the county will be asked to shoulder much of the load.

The last city park is now just a patch of pine and cypress trees bordering the west side of Interstate 75 in Area 3 of Tampa Palms.

The two large developments currently part of Hillsborough County -- Live Oak and K-Bar Ranch -- are likely to have park space. But those developments are years in the future.

A final decision concerning the Tampa Palms park's design is roughly a couple of years away, said Warren Kinsler, head of New Tampa Inc., which owns the land.

Ross Ferlita, director of the city's park department, said the dense, wooded area makes a better picnic spot than a football field.

For now the half-moon-shaped spot is unreachable by car because Kinsler has not built anything there yet. Eventually it will be surrounded by houses.

Wayne Papy, deputy director of the Tampa recreation department, said the city hasn't accommodated all of New Tampa's needs. Most pressing is the shortage of youth fields, he said.

"On a grading scale, we're probably going to be a C," said Papy. "We're definitely not going to be an A."

Any of New Tampa's youth groups would be happy with more space. Pop Warner Football president Ron Montgomery said his teams would only need one field for three months. Currently, they practice and play on adult soccer fields.

Other options include a skate park, which could take up as much as 1 acre, or more softball and baseball diamonds.

According to Tampa statutes, the city is required to provide 2.3 acres of community park land for every 1,000 residents. In New Tampa, at least 25 percent of the land must be open space.

Open spaces are designated as passive or active. A picnic area is passive; a baseball diamond is active.

The city recently acquired 122 acres of wilderness near the water treatment facility on Bruce B. Downs. That area will be passive space used by hikers and bikers.

A new 40-acre park close to Freedom High and Liberty Middle School, with eight athletic fields, will be active space. City planners had wanted a 100-acre site, but they had to scale back their plans.

The other piece of land currently available for public use is a 4-acre plot behind Fire Station No. 20 on Bruce B. Downs Boulevard that may be home to the New Tampa Cultural Center. The plot's odd shape makes it a better fit for a cultural center than an athletic field, said Harrison.

Hillsborough County is finishing a 12.6-acre recreation complex across from Pride Elementary in Cross Creek.

At $30,000-$50,000 an acre, buying additional land from developers is not an option. Although space is at a premium, Ferlita said the combination of the city's existing parks and county's future parks should suffice for a while.

"We're in good shape for the most part the next few years," he said.

- John Balz can be reached at (813) 269-5313 or at balz@sptimes.com.

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