Unless you have kids who play league athletics in Hillsborough County, you probably are not aware of the fact that 55 of the county's 59 athletic parks are managed and maintained by volunteer groups.
Such is the case at Skyway Park.
Skyway is adjacent to the residential neighborhood of Dana Shores and is just west of the airport. It serves the youths of the Town 'N Country area.
A nonprofit league, managed by a board of directors who are all volunteers, manages everything from field maintenance to cleaning the bathrooms and running the concessions. For its part, the county cuts the grass once a week, pays the water bill to keep the fields moist, and will take care of things such as a major plumbing problem if one arises.
The league uses most of the money it collects from player fees and concessions to pay for field maintenance and supplies, as well as paying for umpires for games. Coaches and parents are regularly asked to clean up the park and perform park maintenance before games. It is not necessarily a bad thing that the users are asked to contribute in this way; it instills a greater sense of pride and ownership — at least among the few who will help.
Therein lies part of the problem — plenty of users, but not enough helpers.
It was recently exposed that a group of developers and former Tampa Mayor Dick Greco want to turn a section of property south of Skyway into an indoor youth athletic facility. The property is owned by the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority and is zoned for commercial use. Its 20-some acres are essentially a green space that serves as a buffer between Dana Shores and the airport. The proposed athletic facility would be enormous, and would include a parking lot for at least 1,000 cars.
Anyone who has ever driven down Independence Avenue and Memorial Highway knows this is one of the most congested areas in the county. The additional traffic the facility would attract would mean the traffic nightmare that already exists in the area would get worse.
Robert Gries, one of the would-be developers of the proposed facility, said, "My simple, single goal is for a not-for-profit facility to help the children."
If Gries' cries of altruism are true, I would suggest he start his philanthropy at Skyway Park — or most any other park in the county that is managed and maintained by volunteers. The park's fields don't drain well, and dandelions choke the grass on most of the fields. The buildings and facilities around the baseball fields are decades old and in desperate need of repair.
This is especially true of the public restrooms at the baseball fields. They are so disgusting that last year I wrote a letter to the board of county commissioners suggesting that if the toilets at One County Center were as foul and decrepit, they would seek to have them condemned.
Seriously, if I had a choice to use the restrooms at Skyway or a "port-a-potty," the latter would win hands down.
Several commissioners responded to my complaint, and it was discovered the cleaning of the toilets is the league's responsibility.
Still, the age and lack of routine maintenance of the restrooms have taken its toll, and no amount of bleach would make any parent comfortable letting their little one go potty there.
My guess is a new bathroom facility would run close to six figures. Unfortunately, the county commission appears more interested in building something new than taking care of, and improving, existing facilities.
This should not come as a surprise. After all, ribbon cuttings at new athletic facilities come with photo-ops, lots of free press and a plaque with the commissioners' names on a wall.
Nobody wants their name on a new bathroom, and new toilets rarely generate much press.
So I challenge Robert Gries to help children by starting with improvements to the facilities we already have. He should start with building a new bathroom facility and concession area at Skyway Park's baseball fields.
If he believes the only way he can help children is through the development of a huge indoor athletic facility with a parking lot for 1,000 cars, he should look at building one over on Parkview Street — where he lives.