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Hospital wins tussle over park land

Davis Islands residents lose their fight to keep Tampa General from building a garage on a sliver of a park.

Published May 19, 2005

TAMPA - After a contentious seven-hour meeting, City Council voted 7-0 early Wednesday to let Tampa General Hospital build a parking garage on 0.4 of an acre of city park land.

More than 500 people turned out for the special council meeting, held at the Tampa Convention Center to accommodate the crowd. Nearly three-quarters of those at the meeting were hospital supporters and employees ranging from transplant surgeons to maintenance staff.

Council members ultimately agreed with them that the hospital's mission of providing health care to west central Florida and educating University of South Florida medical students outweighed the importance of saving a small, underused portion of the park.

They also said the hospital's plan to build a 0.7-acre waterfront public walkway and offer of $1-million to Davis Islands residents for recreational improvements offset the loss of the parcel.

The meeting lasted until 1 a.m., with dozens of people on both sides of the issue weighing in.

Some Davis Islands residents objected to TGH's expansion plans because of the additional traffic it would bring, and they fought hard to save the waterfront land at the edge of Marjorie Park.

"Building a parking garage on a waterfront park is bad public policy," said Charner Reese. "The grand views of downtown and Harbour Island from the Davis Islands park are unmistakable. Why would we want to obscure that view with a seven-story parking garage on a dedicated waterfront park?"

Others saw it differently.

Les Valitutti, who 15 years ago had a heart transplant at TGH, came from his Clearwater home to throw his support behind the hospital.

"I have seen TGH grow to become a world-class transplant center. Today it's ranked sixth in the world," Valitutti said. "Don't strangle its growth because of parking and expansion problems. Let it flower and let Tampa be known for its educational and medical reputation, not lap dancing."

City Council members Rose Ferlita, Linda Saul-Sena and John Dingfelder said the decision was a hard one.

"This park land is held in our trust," Dingfelder said. "It belongs to the whole city."

But he said TGH officials convinced him the public would be better served by upgrades to the hospital.

Saul-Sena said that although in general she's a "tree hugger," the 0.4 acre of park land is underused and not a huge loss to the community.

Davis Islands should have 21 acres of park land to serve its population, according to goals set in Tampa's comprehensive plan. The neighborhood has 57 acres of park land.

Council member Kevin White noted that traffic snarls may increase with the hospital's expansion, but that's part of living in a growing city.

"We are very fortunate here in Tampa. We think we have traffic problems," he said, adding that cities like Chicago and New York really have problems.

The council's decision gives Tampa General permission to rezone its property and lease the park land for 25 years. The hospital plans to build a 1,400-space parking garage on the site and a 125,000-square-foot office building for the University of South Florida, and to add a floor to a building under construction. The lease requires Tampa General to contribute $20,000 to safety improvements identified by the Bayshore Task Force.

The expansion approved Wednesday should accommodate the hospital's needs far into the future, TGH president Ron Hytoff said, and there won't be a need to encroach further on the park.

"That's just not going to happen," he said.

[Last modified May 19, 2005, 00:42:10]

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