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Arts hall lives amid tightened budget

Published July 13, 2007


The prospect of a New Tampa performing arts hall, considered dead for the past two years, has sprung back to life.

Next Thursday, Hillsborough County commissioners are to decide whether to give their parks department 13 acres of county land on Bruce B. Downs Boulevard, just south of New Tampa Boulevard.

"I envision it being a passive park that could be a community focal point for theater events, the Taste of New Tampa, all kinds of things," said Commissioner Ken Hagan, whose district includes New Tampa.

The idea was discussed three years ago, after the county bought 81 acres to create drainage and retention space for the eight-laning of Bruce B. Downs, planned over the next four years. Road planners projected back then that they would need all 81 acres, then concluded that six could be set aside. This year, as they refined plans, they counted 13.4 acres as surplus.

Last month, Hagan met with Doug Wall, who founded the New Tampa Players with his wife six years ago. Wall said the Players are willing to raise money to build and operate a theater on the property, or to join in a county partnership to do that.

In recent years, the Players have rehearsed and performed in the University Area Community Center to crowds as large as 300. They begin a run of Oliver! at the same location in two weeks.

Wall said that facility is wonderful, but it is overbooked, limiting when the Players can use it.

"We wanted to be in a situation where we are more in control of our destiny," Wall said.

Hagan cautioned that the county, stricken with new property tax limits from the Florida Legislature, isn't in financial shape to build, much less operate, new facilities. He predicted that the Players will have to take responsibility, and the county would need assurance of their staying power.

"They hopefully understand that they're going to have to have an endowment, and that will go for operating costs," Hagan said.

Two years ago, commissioners considered a bigger center with two theaters and space for classes. They required organizers in New Tampa to assemble a $10-million endowment, which Hagan today considers extreme.

It dashed hopes in New Tampa.

Now Wall, a business owner who lives in Grand Hampton, projects a smaller theater would cost $5-million to build and would need a $2-million endowment for operations.

"We've got a long way to go, and we haven't asked anybody for money yet," he said.

At Hagan's request, county recreation staffers sketched plans for the property that show a theater seating 200 to 300, a band shell, parking, a dog park and nature trails.

But he noted, "That's a conceptual design that could potentially happen years down the road."

Bill Coats can be reached at 813 269-5309 or



If you go

Public hearing

Hillsborough County commissioners will hold a public hearing Thursday on reallocating 13 acres in New Tampa for a park. The meeting will be at 2 p.m. in the commissioners' second-floor boardroom at the County Center, 601 E Kennedy Blvd., Tampa.


[Last modified July 12, 2007, 07:55:08]

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