Tampa council okays new boathouse
By DAVID KARP, Times Staff Writer
TAMPA -- Less than a mile from public housing projects, the Julian Lane Riverfront Park has long offered an oasis for the city's less fortunate residents. On Thursday, children ran in the park and men pumped iron as rap music played.
But soon, the sounds and sights of the downtown park on the Hillsborough River will change.
Under a deal approved Thursday by the City Council, a rowing club will build a two-story boathouse and sports center in the middle of the park. Rowers from elite northern schools such as Princeton and Yale, as well as students from the University of Tampa, Tampa Prep, Plant High , Hillsborough High and Berkeley Prep, will come to the center.
The Stewards Foundation, a non-profit rowing group, is building the boathouse and will pay the city $1 year for the land.
In return, the rowers say, the public will get improved facilities, and disadvantaged kids will get access to a sport they might never experience.
"We want to use the sport of rowing to teach teamwork and responsibility to young people," said Thomas Feaster, one of the center's organizers.
Two residents urged the City Council not to give away the public's land. They said the public park might be taken over by the rowers.
"It's the other way around," Feaster said. "We want to involve the kids there."
The $1-million rowing center will replace the boathouse at the University of Tampa. The private college has expanded so much recently that it no longer has room for visiting rowers.
Located just north of Tampa Prep's campus, the 25,000-square-foot rowing center will house more than 100 racing shells, canoes and kayaks. There will be a weight room, laundry center and classrooms.
The second floor will serve as a dormitory with 100 beds for visiting crews. The rest of the year, it will operate as a youth hostel.
Having children sleep overnight at the park will increase security at the park, organizers say. Staff will be at the center around the clock.
The rowing club also plans to build a deck that will open out to the public swimming pool in Riverfront Park. On one side of the pool will be the deck built for rowers; on the other side of the pool will be the public entrance.
Under the deal with the city, the rowers must perform 5,200 hours of community service a year.
To earn the community service, the club may sponsor rowing events with high school and college rowing clubs, teach rowing and boater safety classes, and run programs for the city recreation department, Boys and Girls Club, and YMCA.
The rowers must make "good faith efforts" to devote some of the hours to programs for disadvantage kids, according to the lease deal.
If they don't do all the community service hours, the rowers must pay $12 for every hour missed.
The rowers will also build the city recreation department a 5,000-square-foot building to replace an existing recreation center that will be demolished.
The mayor will appoint two members of the center's board, and the center will name one person from the West Riverfront neighborhood association to an advisory board.
On Thursday, Kenneth Little, a nearby resident and city firefighter who uses the park almost every day, wasn't sure how sharing space there would work.
"I understand it would help the college," he said, referring to the University of Tampa.
Little uses the park's weight room regularly. He also takes his four children to the recreation center almost every day after school.
They love water sports, and he thinks they could learn to enjoy rowing. But he wondered if he might end up having to take his children elsewhere to play.
"You really don't know what will happen," Little said. "It sounds like it's a 50-50 chance it could go either way."
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