Matt May’s photography will be one of the highlights of the New Tampa Recreation Center’s expansion, which currently is under construction in Tampa Palms. (Photo: Charmaine George)

When the New Tampa Recreation Center (NTRC) was built in 2007, Tampa’s Matt May was commissioned to photograph some of the area gymnasts to adorn the windows at the new facility.

Now, 12 years later, the NTRC is just about finished with its $3-million expansion, and once again, it is May’s photography that will be among the highlights of the new structure.

The 7,300-sq.-ft. expansion will help the NTRC accommodate more of those gymnasts, as well as those in the city’s popular dance programs. The two programs served a combined 1,200 students (pre-Covid), and the additional space will allow those numbers to increase by roughly 25 percent when full capacity is again allowed.

Five panels of May’s photography will line a wall in the lobby of the new expansion, and will look like something you would typically see entering a professional sports complex or Hall of Fame. The images show gymnasts, ranging in age from 7 to 17, performing flips and other maneuvers. The large glass panels were put into place at the rec center July 29, as May watched like a nervous and proud parent.

However, these aren’t your ordinary images. May’s photos have been transformed with the use of ceramic inks that are printed onto inch-thick glass, which is then tempered so the inks become a permanent part of the glass.

“This is a new medium for me,” May admits. “The technology has gotten to a point where we could pull this off. Over time, you won’t have to worry about Florida’s heat or UV rays fading that image. To be able to put something in a window in Florida and have it last the test of time, at this level of detail, is really something that has only just become possible over the last year or so.”

May is a local sports photographer, who also shot the first studio pictures of new Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ quarterback Tom Brady in the team’s new uniforms. He also shot new tight end Rob Gronkowski after he joined the Bucs.

May also shot ad campaigns for the Tampa Bay Rowdies in 2019 and, back in 2017, produced the art for the Bucs’ “Siege the Day” campaign.

He says he approached shooting the new pictures for the New Tampa Rec Center the same way, employing the same studio-lit pro action style.

“About a year ago, we set up here in the gym, using a black backdrop, and I photographed some of the young gymnasts just like I would Tom Brady or other pro athletes or sports teams,” May says. “I was not only showcasing their personalities, hard work and athletic ability, but also their confidence.”

The NTRC expansion is expected to be completed this fall. Prior to the pandemic, the facility boasted a waiting list of 1,400 kids — 960 waiting to get into gymnastics, the rest waiting to get into the center’s dance programs.

The expansion will add a 50’ x 40’ room specifically for children ages 5 and under, who currently have to share space with older kids in the existing 12,500-sq.-ft. gymnastics area.

Another 50’ x 40’ all-purpose room for dance also is being added, and the expansion also will include a 1,760-sq.-ft. “training box,” which will offer a wealth of possible training exercises for a variety of sports, like retractable batting cages and small group fitness classes.

District 7 Tampa City Council member Luis Viera, who helped lead the charge to get the expansion funded after years of budget disappointments as New Tampa’s representative on the Council, was on hand as the panels were fitted into place and found them to be a fitting touch for the new building.

“I think it’s amazing,” Viera said. “It really improves the existing location, and is consistent with what I think the community wanted to see.”

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