TAMPA - The West Tampa Boys & Girls Club should not be moved to MacFarlane Park, according to the vast majority of the 100 or so residents in attendance at a neighborhood watch meeting Thursday evening.
The majority appeared to support the club and agree that it should remain in West Tampa, just not in a park that they say is already crowded on most days.
The Boys & Girls club would bring at least 200 more children to the park every day, they said. And building the club in the park would require cutting down several old trees and paving over areas to provide parking. They also believe the extra building could make the park less safe for walkers and other park users.
"This won't be a park anymore if we keep building in it," said Marcelo Maseda, 85, who was born a block away and also spent many days at the Boys Club as a kid. "I support the Boys & Girls Club with all my heart, but there must be a better place for it."
The expansion of Interstate 275 will soon force the club to move from its current location just south of the interstate on N MacDill Avenue. The city initially agreed to provide land within nearby MacFarlane Park, just north of the interstate. However, plans to place the club in any part of the park quickly drew opposition.
The Boys & Girls Club needs to be out of its current property by January, though the city says it has brokered a six-month extension. Regardless, it will likely take at least a year to design a new center, win permits and build it, club officials have said. Unless a new site is secured soon, the club may have to temporarily close.
Phil Tagliarini, chairman of the Save MacFarlane Park committee, told the crowd to remain focused to block the club's move to the park. He emphasized that he supports the Boys & Girls Club and would be willing to do what he could to help find a more suitable location.
Wayne Papy, deputy director of Tampa's parks and recreation department, reassured the residents that city officials have not yet decided where the club will go. Several other locations, including areas in Al Lopez Park and Riverfront Park, are also being considered.
Papy told the residents that even if the city gives the initial okay to move into MacFarlane Park, city officials will still have to work out a lease agreement with the club. Before the lease is ratified, residents will get a chance to voice their concerns to the City Council, he said.
"This is not a done deal," he said.