Construction of the New Tampa Performing Arts Center could begin on this barren lot in the next few months. (Photo: Charmaine George)

The New Tampa Players (NTP), a local acting troupe looking for a permanent home, recently finished a run of shows with a cast of just a handful of performers in a 2,000-sq.-ft. black box theater at the old University Mall.

It’s not exactly what the group may have envisioned when it started nearly 20 years ago with the hope of a cultural center they could call home in the heart of New Tampa, but now, they can see a spotlight at the end of the tunnel.

Thanks in part to a public outpouring of support from many NTP and New Tampa community members, the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners voted 5-2 to approve a $7.3-million construction contract to build the long-awaited New Tampa Performing Arts Center (NTPAC).

“We weren’t 100 percent it would go through, but we are super happy it did,” said Nora Paine, a long-time member and current president of the NTP.

The vote is the biggest step yet for the project, which dates back to 2001, and was initially approved in 2014. Commissioner Ken Hagan, whose District 2 includes New Tampa, says a groundbreaking for the state-of-the-art, 20,000-sq.-ft. (expandable to 30,000 square feet) NTPAC should be scheduled in the next month or two. 

Hagan would like to see the project, which is located in the Village at Hunter’s Lake development across Bruce B. Downs (BBD) Blvd. from the entrance to the Hunter’s Green community, completed by September of 2022.

“I’m ecstatic over the results,” Hagan says. “Good things come to those who wait. It only took 17 years, but we finally got over the finish line. The end result is that next year, New Tampa is going to have a first-class facility that’s going to be a wonderful centerpiece for the entire community to enjoy.”

Ken Hagan

Hagan told the Neighborhood News that the construction contract has been awarded to Dunedin-based Bandes Construction, but that the Request for Proposals to operate the PAC hasn’t yet happened. 

Hagan told the Board he had received more than 140 emails in support of the NTPAC project. The handful of emails Hagan said he received in opposition to building it primarily dealt with traffic concerns.

Prior to the vote, more than a dozen speakers, including many NTP members, asked the commissioners to keep the PAC dream alive. 

“A lot of us had concerns of (the project just being) small stores and another apartment complex,” said Hunter’s Green resident Rob Larsen. “Well, to our surprise, the Performing Arts Center was going to be the heart of this new center. And without it, it basically dies.”

District 63 State Rep. Fentrice Driskell sent an email of support, and Tampa City Council member Luis Viera, who represents New (and North) Tampa in District 7, weighed in as well, promising a commitment from the city to help pay some of the PAC’s operating costs.

Joining Hagan in voting to award the construction contract were commissioners Harry Cohen, Stacy White, Kimberly Overman and Gwen Myers.

They all cited the promises made to New Tampa residents over the years and, as Hagan pointed out, the money to build the PAC was approved back in 2019 and has been waiting to be spent.

“Promises made, promises kept,” said Comm. Myers. “I hope no other community would go through 17 years waiting on a decision from our county.”

The New Tampa Players, performing “Little Mermaid”, may soon have a permanent home to put on its productions. (Photo: James Cass of Picture This of Palma Ceia)

Commissioners Mariella Smith and BCC chair Pat Kemp voted against awarding the construction contract. 

Smith said she didn’t believe the rights to operate the PAC once it was built should be awarded to the Manatee County-based Florida Cultural Group (FCG).

Kemp was critical of the PAC’s location. She said it was a “little teeny place carved out of a massive parking lot” and jammed between a strip mall and an apartment complex, both which financially benefited the developers and left the PAC’s actual location as an afterthought. 

“It would just be a boondoggle for me to put an iconic building that you put up a lot of money for behind a strip mall and in front of a four-story apartment building,” Kemp said.

Following the construction vote, the commissioners addressed the concerns about FCG by voting unanimously for a Request for Proposals (RFP) to reopen the bidding process in order to find a group to handle the PAC operations.

Hagan says the county staff felt that FCG was the best organization to run the facility to get it to a net-zero operation, and that its extensive experience at fund raising and luring national acts would be an ideal fit. 

“Unless there’s another organization that we’re unaware of, our staff feels that at the end, after going through the RFP, it will likely be FCG again,” Hagan says. “Whoever it is, I just want them to be able to be effective and able to fund raise and bring in national acts.”

Hagan said he also will champion the creation of an additional local board, comprised of New Tampa residents, to support the facility and help with any other issues.

For more information about the New Tampa Players, visit The troupe’s latest project, “Motherhood Out Loud.” runs June 11-12 at 7:30 p.m., June 13 at 3 p.m., June 18-19 at 7:30 p.m. and June 20 at 3 p.m. at the Uptown Stage at the University Mall (2200 E. Fowler Ave.).

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