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Lutz train depot garners award

The rebuilding effort on the old depot by community volunteers is honored with the "Award of Excellence.''

By BILL COATS

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 27, 2001


Last year's all-volunteer rebuilding of Lutz's train depot is being honored in a community design competition.

The Lutz community in general and the Lutz Civic Association received an "Award of Excellence" from the Hillsborough County City/County Planning Commission.

Two other area projects, built more conventionally, also were to receive design awards. The University Area Community Center is receiving an "Outstanding Contribution to the Community" award, the highest category. And St. Mark the Evangelist Catholic Church's new church and family-life area was to receive an "Award of Recognition."

Chris Waldman, the Planning Commission's team leader for public participation, said the University Area Community Center reflected planning among a wide array of community groups, even youth gangs. It was built for growth and for myriad uses.

"I just can't believe how many aspects of the community are coming together to help this neighborhood," she said.

Input from young people, in particular, could account for the fact that the building has remained free of gang graffiti, she said.

St. Mark the Evangelist was commended for creating a community center in the process of building a church, Ms. Waldman said.

"It's an environmentally sensitive area and they really respected that and incorporated it very nicely into the site plan," she said.

Organized to serve fast-growing New Tampa, St. Mark had its origins seven years ago when the Diocese of St. Petersburg bought 27 acres on Cross Creek Boulevard. Today the church serves approximately 1,300 families. A $4.6-million center, designed in contemporary style, is the first phase of the church's building plans.

The Lutz depot, by contrast, is architecturally faithful to an early railroad depot at U.S. 41 and Lutz-Lake Fern Road.

"Lutz Junction," as the railway connection was called, was shortened to "Lutz" when the town received a post office in 1913. The recreated depot functions today as a community stage.

Ms. Waldman said judges favored the Lutz depot project because the community designed it and provided input every step of the way, because it pays homage to Lutz's history, and because it "has become a center of community life."

Citizens and businesses donated more than $50,000 in money, labor and materials. "You just don't see this kind of cohesiveness in a community," Ms. Waldman said. "We want to hold this up as an example of what communities can do for themselves."

Ron Stoy, the Lutz Civic Association officer who led the effort as chairman, said the independence and community spirit that made the depot project possible is "just endemic to our area. It's just our nature."

- Bill Coats can be reached at (813) 226-3469.

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