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A new place to play and learn

Residents and officials alike celebrate the completion of the new 13,000-square-foot community center.

By RON MATUS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published October 25, 2002

More than 200 residents cheered a new, $1.4-million community center Tuesday while a movement to save the old one quietly gathered steam.

At 13,000 square feet, the new building is more than twice as big as the old one and includes an indoor basketball court and computer lab -- luxuries the well-worn old center never had.

Port Tampa "deserved a lot better," said Mayor Dick Greco, who led dignitaries for the ribbon cutting.

"This is one of the most important things in the world, spending money on education and children," he said.

Jennifer Baker, whose daughter Delaney, 5, and son Austen, 3, attend day camp at the old center, called the new one "a godsend."

"It's gorgeous," she said. "It's everything I would look for in a center."

The new facility, on Shamrock Road, is expected to open within three weeks.

The fate of the old one is unclear.

Since the 1970s, it has been the community's heart.

Voters cast ballots there. Kids met for after-school programs. Adults took classes on everything from woodworking to line dancing.

Now, paint peels and walls buckle.

"We have literally loved that building into decline," said Jill Buford, president of the Port Tampa Civic Association.

A plan is afoot to save it.

Last month, Buford and other residents formed the South Tampa Community Development Corp., which aims to transform the building into a cultural arts center.

Group members see theater productions and studio space for artists. If the city will lease the building to them, they'll raise money for an upgrade, Buford said.

In the meantime, residents will embrace the new building.

On Thursday, they toured rooms that will bustle with people making pottery, learning how to juggle or simply meeting.

"Fantastic," said Paula Jackson-Cleary, whose five grandchildren will use the facility. "It's truly nice."

Jackson-Cleary was one of a handful of residents who got to watch Greco, City Council Chairman Charlie Miranda and other local officials christen the new court.

After the ribbon cutting, Miranda took off his jacket and told Greco, "Let's go."

He then lobbed an air ball from long range.

Greco, who left his jacket on, had better luck with shots at shorter range. He nailed his first two.

-- Ron Matus can be reached at 226-3405 or

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