TAMPA, Fla. - Hillsborough County will spend more than $50 million during the next three years on parks and recreation projects, including a controversial 24-field soccer complex.
The projects were approved by county commissioners Wednesday in a public hearing on spending $47.6 million in Community Investment Tax money. The half-cent sales tax was approved by voters in September 1996 and can only be used on capital projects, not for operations and maintenance.
The county also will spend another several million dollars on the projects approved Wednesday, with the funding coming from other projects that have been delayed or canceled.
The soccer complex will cost $15 million, but county officials
say it will draw tournaments from around the country and eventually
will make money to help support the rest of the parks system.
“We want to be the center of the universe for soccer,” parks director Mark Thornton said.
Other projects include $1.5 million for Veterans Memorial Park on U.S. 301 at the Tampa Bypass Canal. The county spent $2.5 million last year to buy land to expand the park. Veterans groups will raise money for the memorials, Thornton said.
Almost $13 million will go toward extending riding, walking and running trails, and more than $17 million will be used to upgrade lighting, concession stands, restrooms, roads and drainage at neighborhood and regional parks.
The soccer complex is a scaled-down version of Championship Park, a $40 million multisport athletic complex that Commissioner Jim Norman envisioned building in a rural area near Plant City. Commissioners ultimately decided against the project and directed the Parks, Recreation and Conservation Department to develop a list of projects that focused on youth athletics and a veterans park.
Norman used Wednesday’s discussion to point out that Polk County is about to build a 275-acre, multisport complex near Auburndale. The complex will be home to the Florida Youth Soccer Association and Russmatt Baseball, which holds collegiate-baseball spring tournaments. Polk County officials estimate the complex will generate $50 million in annual economic activity.
Norman said Hillsborough will have an advantage over Polk because the United Soccer League First Division plans on bringing professional soccer here. A private group of investors wants to build a stadium for the team in northwest Hillsborough that will hold 6,000 to 7,000 fans.
The site for the county’s soccer complex has not been
determined, but Norman said it should be near the pro team’s
field so the county and the pro team can use each other’s
fields and partner in promotions.
Thornton said the complex will help erase a 34-field deficit in the county’s soccer program. About 450 organized teams play on the county’s 100 soccer fields.