Despite the fact a majority of Hillsborough County commissioners declined to vote to award a $7.3-million construction contract for the long-awaited New Tampa Performing Arts Center (PAC), District 2 Commissioner Ken Hagan says the show must go on, following another intermission.
Hagan believes that once all of the county commissioners’ concerns are addressed by staff, construction will proceed.
“I’m not really concerned,” Comm. Hagan told the Neighborhood News. “I think once staff fully describes and explains not only the history of the project but the operational plan, I think the individual Board members will be comfortable with it.”
Hagan’s motion to execute the construction contract with Bandes Construction Company was seconded by Dist. 4’s Stacy White but received no other support. It was withdrawn after some debate, and deferred to the next BOCC meeting on May 5.
The opposition, mostly due to concerns over money and the company that will be managing the facility, raised a few eyebrows in New Tampa, but Hagan says the project, which is located directly across Bruce B. Downs (BBD) Blvd. from the Hunter’s Green community in The Village at Hunter’s Lake, is not in any danger. The pad for the PAC is already in place (see photo), built by the developer, Harrison Bennett Properties, LLC.
Roughly $8 million in funding to complete the project was set aside in 2019 via a bond issue.
The New Tampa PAC — which for almost all of its history had been referred to as the New Tampa Cultural Center — will be a 350-seat venue with four dance studios. The seats in the auditorium will be retractable, allowing the space to be converted into a multi-purpose room for event receptions. The 20,000-sq.-ft. building is adaptable to accommodate various needs when it comes to space. There also are plans to add a second story in the future to accommodate additional dance studios and community spaces.
Commissioners Mariella Smith, Kimberly Overman, Gwen Myers and Harry Cohen shared many of the same concerns, mostly centering around questions regarding the company that will manage the facility — the Florida Cultural Group (FCG). Formerly known as The Manatee Players, Inc., the FCG is an umbrella organization that operates the Manatee Performing Arts Center, and the Manatee Players community theater.
Smith questioned why the operations would be handled by a Manatee-based company, as opposed to the local New Tampa Players (NTP). But NTP, which would make its home at the new PAC, is a much smaller organization that has never handled the management of a theater. It currently operates out of its recently completed Uptown Stage location in the University Mall on E. Fowler Ave.
“I just have a concern about the county putting $8 million into a 20,000-sq.-ft. edifice somewhere where there’s not more local community control,” Smith said, while also voicing concern that the City of Tampa was not contributing to the construction when the facility is located in Tampa. However, as Hagan pointed out, the PAC is just as close to residents in the unincorporated area of New Tampa as it is to those in the area living within city limits.
Overman said with so many of the county’s capital improvement projects having to be deferred in these cash-strapped times, she was not necessarily opposed but, “the timing just feels wrong…..I just can’t support moving this forward right now.”
Cohen also had concerns about the arrangement with FCG.
“I don’t think money was the issue, but the main misunderstanding was with the Florida Cultural Group and their role,” says Hagan of the group that will receive nearly $1.5 million to run the PAC through 2025. “A couple of commissioners didn’t understand their history. Our staff has worked on this for a couple of years. They feel extremely confident this will be a very successful partnership and they (FCG) will be able to bring in major national acts and fundraise.”
As for the City of Tampa contributing, District 7 City Council member Luis Viera motioned at the Council’s April 15 meeting to request Mayor Jane Castor’s administration meet with the county to make an arrangement on helping to finance maintenance, to the tune of maybe $50,000-$75,000 a year.
The previous administration under Bob Buckhorn declined to help, Viera says he was told.
Viera told his fellow Council members that the project was a long-time coming and of much importance to the New Tampa area, and that he was ready to fight for it. Viera’s motion passed unanimously.
How much that helps get the project over the final hurdle remains to be seen.
The PAC has been in the works for 20 years, beginning in 2001 when a Connecticut firm was paid $27,000 by the City for a study that determined New Tampa could support a cultural center.
The project fizzled out in 2005, but was revived in 2007, when Hagan and former fellow Commissioner Victor Crist pushed to keep it alive. In 2014, the Village at Hunter’s Lake project, of which the New Tampa PAC is a central part, was initially approved.
Hagan said he has sat through at least 15 different votes on the PAC throughout the years and, at different times over they years, we reported that it was expected to be completed by 2019, 2020 and 2021.
Even that latest projection isn’t going to happen, however.
“I’m extremely frustrated that it’s taken this long to execute the (PAC’s) construction contract,” Hagan says. “We should be cutting the ribbon now, not awarding the construction contract. I mean, we designated the funding in 2019. We really should have been up and running by now. That part is very, very frustrating.”