What used to be six old, underused tennis courts just for students at Liberty Middle School in Tampa Palms has been transformed into a new recreational area for the entire community.
The tennis courts are gone, and what stands in their place will now be called the New Tampa Sports Pavilion.
The Pavilion includes three basketball courts that also can be used for pickleball, tennis and volleyball.
Next to the courts, a huge metal shade structure stands over an artificial turf field. At 166 feet by 127 feet, it’s larger than four school buses lined up one way and three school buses lined up the other.
A building with offices and restrooms is located by the covered field, too.
On November 15, City of Tampa and Hillsborough County School District officials held a ribbon cutting to officially open the new expansion, which will be used by Liberty students during the school day and open to the public whenever school is not in session.
District 7 Tampa City Council member Luis Viera, whose son attended Liberty, says the idea was suggested at a 2020 town hall meeting by Tampa Palms resident Alexandra Gilmore. He championed the idea, saying it would add to the other recreational opportunities that have been brought to New Tampa over the last several years.
“This is another big win for New Tampa and a really big deal,” says Viera. “It’s a $4-million expansion, and when you include the $3-million expansion of the New Tampa Recreation Center and multi-million-dollar All-Abilities Park, it represents a nearly $10 million investment in parks for New Tampa since 2018.”
He’s referring to the playground that opened at the New Tampa Community Park one year ago, the first of its kind in the city that is designed for kids of all abilities, especially those who may not be able to play at typical playgrounds because they use a wheelchair or have other special needs.
Viera says that investment has made a significant impact.
“New Tampa has gone from being a city park desert, where all we had was a rec center that was busting at the seams,” he says, “to being home to the city’s first All-Abilities Park and now this additional expansion.”
The new rec center expansion is located adjacent to the New Tampa Community Park on the property of Liberty at 17400 Commerce Park Blvd.
The ribbon cutting on Nov.15 was attended by Viera, City of Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, Hillsborough County School Board members Jessica Vaughn and Lynn Gray, and Hillsborough’s Superintendent of Schools Van Ayres.
Viera says the public access to the courts will be scheduled after school ends each day, during school holidays, weekends, and summer.
City of Tampa manager of athletics, aquatics and special facilities Heather Erickson says the New Tampa Sports Pavilion has experienced something of a soft opening and expects to be fully operational around January 1.
She says security lights are in place, but the courts themselves are not yet properly lighted, so they currently are only open until sundown.
Starting in 2024, the pavilion will be staffed for open basketball and pickleball nightly, plus scheduled activities.
“Our obligation is to make sure it’s not just a hangout without supervision,” Erickson says. “We also offer classes such as sports readiness for girls and boys, fitness and agility.”
For more information, she says check the City of Tampa website at TampaGov.net after Jan. 1. Navigate to “Parks & Rec,” then “Activities,” then “Athletics.” For questions about using the facility, reach out to Tampa’s supervisor of athletics Cedric Smith at Cedric.Smith@tampagov.net.