Plans to expand the New Tampa Recreation Center (NTRC) — whether by adding more room for a gymnastics program that already has a two-year waiting list, adding a pool or perhaps building covered areas for parents to watch their kids play youth sports — are on hold.
For the second time in five years, the Tampa City Council has voted to provide funds for another project, keeping the NTRC as it is and adding to the ire of many New Tampa residents that the area is not getting a fair return on the large share of city taxes they pay.
“We are tired of being treated as a cash cow for the city,’’ said Tampa Palms attorney Warren Dixon.
The Tampa City Council voted Feb. 4 to spend the money instead to fix the 79-year-old Cuscaden Park pool, which will receive $3.1-million for its upgrade.
In 2005, the city spent $2.5-million on the pool, which was then closed in 2009 because of structural damage that was causing leaks. It hasn’t re-opened since.
District 7 Council member Lisa Montelione, who represents New Tampa and the surrounding area, was the lone vote against funding the pool.
While she said she respects the historical and cultural importance of the pool, the money used was not only diverted from the NTRC, but also from another project at the Greco Sports Complex off Fowler Ave. that also sits in her district.
“I wasn’t surprised by the vote, based on the previous support for the repairs at Cuscaden Pool,’’ Montelione says. “What I can tell the people of New Tampa is they need to reach out to my fellow council members and let them know how they feel. I’m on the side of New Tampa, I just need others on the council to see how important this is.”
Dixon said he has already written a letter of complaint, and others, like Maggie Wilson, has voiced their displeasure..
“The prevailing feeling is that there is a disregard for the needs of the (New Tampa) area,’’ said Wilson, a well-known community consultant for the Tampa Palms Community Development District. “‘Just send us your tax money.’ I’m not sure that’s my feeling, but when it comes to enhancements (for our community), it certainly is.”
Wilson’s feelings are nothing new. Even as folks line up to run for Montelione’s District 7 seat, they all seem to mention the need to help make the tax monies work for the area.
The New Tampa Rec Center, which was built in 2008, boasts more than 19,000 sq. ft. of indoor space, mostly for bustling gymnastics and tumbling programs, also is home to a skateboarding park and multi-purpose fields in the adjacent New Tampa Community Park.
In 2012, it was announced that the NTRC would be expanding the following year by adding an additional 14,000 sq. ft. to the facility with more gym space, locker and multi-purpose rooms, a workout center and a rock-climbing wall. But, the $1.5-million addition never came to fruition.
“It was actually in the budget draft, and then when the final budget came out it was gone,’’ says Montelione. “I raised numerous questions to staff about where the money went, and no one could ever really answer the question.”
Dixon says that the original developer of Tampa Palms had to set aside the land for nearby Freedom High and where the New Tampa Recreation Center is located, and with the CDD bonds all paid off, “we essentially have paid for that land.”
“When you realize that we (as Tampa Palms residents) have already made a significant contribution to the rec center, you can understand why we get a little short tempered,’’ he added.
So, will the rec center ever get the improvements promised in 2012, and then promised again for 2016?
“It’s on the books,” Montelione says. “It does have a line item. It’s just a matter of making it the mayor’s priority to keep it funded and to keep them from reallocating the funds.
“This is getting a little repetitive, year after year after year.”