Wilma slows neighborhood's improvements

Published November 6, 2005

WESTCHASE - Although Tampa missed a storm beating, Hurricane Wilma's residual effects were felt all the way into Westchase.

Final work on the community's $2.6-million facelift was supposed to start last month. The hurricane packed a punch at general contractor Recreational Design and Construction's Fort Lauderdale headquarters, and the company was too put-out to look at Westchase.

"They got hit pretty hard," said Brian Smith, director of operations for the community development districts, which hired the firm. "They were out of power for, like, 10 days, and they were still struggling for e-mail and phone lines."

The capital improvements, launched in 2003, include remodeled Glencliff and Baybridge parks, Linebaugh pedestrian tunnels and the Radcliffe bridge. Final work on the bridge is to begin this week. The entire project should be done for good in January, Smith said.

Meanwhile, the CDD boards are talking finances. Some supervisors have floated the idea of hiring an outside accounting firm to audit the books and make sure all numbers match up.

It's no reflection of the CDDs' faith in the Fort Lauderdale contractor, CDD chairman Mark Ragusa said Tuesday. An outside audit is just an extra security option, and he's in favor of having the CDDs' own management company have the first look.

"These typically are situations were RDC has done this before," Ragusa said. "They have a pretty good idea of what everything costs."

District manager John Daugirda said he thought hiring a professional would be the wisest move.

"We can assist with the number crunching," he said. "But I think it deserves a forensic analysis, and we'd better get with an expert on that."

- Stephanie Hayes can be reached at 813 269-5303 or shayes@sptimes.com