The New Tampa Performing Arts Center (in red) off Bruce B. Downs Blvd. will be part of the Village at Hunter’s Lake mixed-use development. (Photo: Charmaine George)

In one of the more significant steps in the long, sometimes-tortured history of a proposed cultural arts center in New Tampa, the Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) has approved the hiring of a firm to design the facility.

Last month, the BOCC awarded a $598,413 contract to Fleischman Garcia Architects to draw a plan for the long-awaited facility, which is now officially being called the New Tampa Performing Arts Center (NTPAC), after years of being referred to as a “cultural center.”

“It’s an extremely significant and critical step in the process,’’ said District 2 county commissioner Ken Hagan, who represents New Tampa and has been involved in the project in various forms since it first sprouted in 2001. “It’s an important move.”

The design of the center — which will be located directly across Bruce B. Downs (BBD) Blvd. from the main entrance to Hunter’s Green, in the new Village at Hunter’s Lake development — is expected to be completed by the end of the year, with bidding for the construction services tentatively scheduled for May of 2020.

It is hoped that the $6-million construction of the NTPAC will begin sometime by November 1, 2020, and is expected to open by Jan. 1, 2022.

The facility — long-heralded to be the centerpiece of the New Tampa community — will be 20,000 square feet on its first floor, with the capability to have a 10,000-sq.-ft. second floor added later. 

The building will include a 350-400-seat theater/multi-purpose room and stage to be used for community theater performances. It will be the home of the New Tampa Players (NTP) acting troupe, which currently stages its performances at the University Area Cultural Development Center (UACDC) on N. 22nd St., just south of Bearss Ave.

The stage area at the NTPAC will be more than 2,000 square feet, and Hagan said it will include an orchestra pit that he helped add after meeting with the NTP and addressing some of their requests.

The center also will host cultural/arts education classes, as well as meetings, banquets and other events.

There will be 1,040 square feet dedicated to NTPAC operations and education programs employees, including an office for the NTP.

The education wing will feature two studios with ballet and dance floors, mirrors and movable walls.

Hagan made note that the NTPAC also will be sustainable, incorporating solar power and electric vehicle stations.

Plans for the NTPAC date back to 2001, when a Connecticut firm was paid $27,000 by the City of Tampa for a study that determined New Tampa could support a small cultural center of its own.

A nonprofit group, called the New Tampa Cultural Arts Center, was offered the six acres of land it requested for the project, but the city requested the group come up with a $10-million endowment to pay for it, which killed the effort back in 2005.

Doug Wall, who was involved with those initial efforts, revived it again in 2007. But Wall, the New Tampa Players president and founding artistic director, could not secure the funding and he passed away in 2017.

Former county commissioner and Tampa Palms resident Victor Crist helped keep the project alive as he worked on finding funding. In 2014, the larger Village at Hunter’s Lake project, of which the NTPAC is a central part, was approved. 

In a 2016 meeting at Hunter’s Green, Crist told the NTP he had secured partner-ships with the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, the Patel Conservatory and the Prodigy Cultural Arts Program to bring gravitas to the project and elevate it to a high-level arts center.

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