Nonprofit gets reins of culture center

The county-built Carrollwood center will be led by a man now running a Pensacola arts council.

By JACKIE RIPLEY, Times Staff Writer
Published January 4, 2008

TAMPA - Hillsborough County commissioners voted Thursday to hand over operation of the Carrollwood Cultural Center to the nonprofit group Friends of the Carrollwood Cultural Center.

It was a decision that pleased Tom Jones, president of the Friends.

"This has really picked us up," Jones said. "We thought the wait was never going to end."

The county built the complex at S Village Drive and Casey Road with $7.9-million in community investment tax dollars. It will continue to assist the center with an annual subsidy that will begin at $380,000 and decrease gradually after the third year.

Fees for classes at the center will help generate revenue and will be substantially higher than the county class fee, typically set at $4 per instructional hour.

Classes at the cultural center could cost as much as $150 for a series of six, taught by experienced professionals.

The Friends organization said it has hired Paul Berg of Pensacola to manage the center at an annual salary of $70,000.

Berg, now executive director of the Northwest Arts Council in Pensacola, will advise the center's executive board on filling four or five additional positions.

County Commissioners Rose Ferlita and Brian Blair wanted assurances that the center would cater to the entire community and not just to Carrollwood.

"This is a regional facility that is open to everyone and is attracting artists from all over," Jones told them.

The center has been a dream of community leaders for almost a decade. It was conceived shortly after the county enacted its community investment tax.

Backers have had to deal with the increased cost of construction materials and, more recently, a county hiring freeze that made hiring a center staff impossible.

Now that the county no longer has to staff the center, it can open as planned.

"The curtain's up in the auditorium, and the lights are on," Jones said. "We are really excited."

A grand opening is planned March 2 with registration for classes to begin March 3.

Jackie Ripley can be reached at ripley@sptimes.comor 813269-5308.