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Port Tampa

Landfill driving range still has a shot

Although his plans for the old Manhattan Landfill were turned down, the developer hopes the new incoming mayor will give it another chance.

By RON MATUS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 28, 2003


Edward Currier whiffed on his first swing at building a golf driving range on an old landfill.

But he's betting he'll get a mulligan.

The Port Tampa Civic Association voted 33-3 last week to reject city plans to turn the 40-acre Manhattan Landfill into a driving range, par-3 course or both. City officials promised if the civic association said no, the proposal was dead.

But Currier, one of two developers pushing the plan, is hoping to get another chance to revive the golf course idea after next week's election.

Christopher Columbus "didn't stop when everyone told him no," he said after the Feb. 19 vote.

Bob Harrell, the city administrator who made the promise last month, said the current administration will stick to it.

"But keep in mind," he added, "we're six weeks from having another mayor."

City officials announced the plan in October.

They wanted to seek proposals to convert the grassy plain south of Interbay Boulevard into a golf facility. The land would be leased at low cost as long as the facility was open to the public, compatible with the neighborhood and acceptable to the city.

Almost immediately, residents complained. Many had enjoyed the land as if it were a park, and they feared the city had made a deal without consulting them.

In response, Harrell put the plan on hold.

He asked members of the civic association to consider giving the city a green light to solicit proposals, which they could still reject later.

But the response from most members at the testy, two-hour meeting was: Why bother?

Bright lights and errant golf balls aren't worth the risk, they said.

"Very few people play golf down here," Vernon Clark said. "Make it so we can all enjoy it, as we have for years."

There was an undercurrent of distrust for the city, which built the landfill and was successfully sued after it became a smelly nuisance.

Currier tried in vain to convince members to let the process move forward, so they would know in more detail what kind of facility might be coming.

"I'm not asking for your blessing," said Currier, a businessman from Palm Harbor. "I'm asking for your indulgence."

The lopsided vote stumped the other potential developer, too.

"I don't think they're looking at the big picture," said Priscilla Nelson, a Bayshore Beautiful golf instructor. "It'd be great for the youth of that area."

Nelson envisions a small course with classes aimed at girls and young women. Despite last week's vote, she, too, remains hopeful.

A golf course isn't necessarily incompatible with what residents want, she said. There is no reason they can't still access the site and enjoy the green space.

"It's not like you're putting a high-rise building there," she said.

The city has no other plans to develop the site.

But civic association president Jill Buford suggested members discuss it at a later meeting.

"We, as a community, ought to get together and determine if there's anything we want to do," she said.

One possibility: Environmental restoration.

During the meeting, several people mourned the wetlands that once graced the site. Now, those natural features are smothered under layers of garbage.

Maybe, Buford said, residents should tell the city to return the land "to what it was."

-- Staff Writer Ron Matus can be reached at 226-3405 or matus@sptimes.com .

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