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HCC considers new youth sports complex

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Published:   |   Updated: February 20, 2014 at 11:02 AM

TAMPA — Hillsborough Community College is considering two major development projects at its Dale Mabry Highway campus that could see a youth sports complex built near Steinbrenner Field and a new mixed-use complex on its south end.

One likely bidder for the sports project is Tampa investor and youth sports booster Bob Gries, who has wanted to build a volleyball and basketball complex in Tampa for a few years. If built, the sports complex would replace the large community tennis complex at HCC, which would be relocated to other college property.

Until Wednesday, the manager of the tennis complex had only heard rumors that a large development project was under consideration and occasionally saw officials touring the property.

“If they're going to give us a brand-new facility, I would be ecstatic,” said Kevin Brundle, who works for the company that manages the courts, NETRESULTS-All American Tennis.

HCC's main campus is land-rich, with a grassy 17-acre “front yard” along Dale Mabry Highway and another 18 acres along Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard at the campus' north end. The state has been giving HCC and similar colleges less money for capital improvement projects lately, so the college started looking at its ample landholdings as a way to make up the difference, college spokeswoman Ashley Carl said.

One independent appraisal pegged the value of the land fronting Dale Mabry at $20 million. When leased, it could bring in $1.6 million per year, the appraiser said.

For now, members of the college's board insist they're just weighing their options and might decide to do nothing.

“I'd be interested in hearing what opportunities are out there to potentially monetize properties in a way that would benefit the school,” said Randall Reid, an HCC board member who works for the construction firm Beck Group.

Late last year, the college solicited bids from real estate brokerage firms, who could help the college market the front yard land to developers. The college is open to suggestions like restaurants, a hotel or a health and wellness facility, according to bid solicitation documents. Bids are due next week.

At the same time, the college has invited developers to pitch their vision of an amateur sports facility on the nine acres now housing the tennis complex. Any developer would have to relocate the tennis complex to the vacant 18-acre parcel along MLK.

Gries, the Tampa investment fund manager, expects to bid on the project.

He has a daughter in high school who's an avid volleyball player, and he's frustrated at the Tampa Bay area's lack of indoor sports venues for volleyball, basketball, cheerleading and wrestling. The Tampa Convention Center can work for random tournaments, he said, but the area really needs a dedicated facility that local teams can use for practice and traveling sports teams can use for tournaments.

He foresees a multi-sport venue with enough space for 24 volleyball courts or eight basketball courts. Cheerleading squads and wrestling teams could use it, too, Gries said.

He said he was appalled to hear that a top local wrestling team was having to train inside a girl's dance studio.

“It just made me go, 'You've got to be kidding,' ” Gries said.

Gries, a former owner of arena football's Tampa Bay Storm, had hoped to build a similar facility on Hillsborough County Aviation Authority land last year, but backed down when people in Tampa's Dana Shores neighborhood complained about possible traffic.

Such dreams don't come cheap, though. A first-rate indoors sports facility would run at least $20 million and likely would require some government funding, he said. From a wealthy family that once owned a piece of the Cleveland Browns football team, Gries said he would make a personal contribution.

He and his daughter wouldn't benefit personally, because she will have graduated by the time it's built, he said. Coincidentally, a separate developer wants to build a similar indoor youth sports facility at the Florida State Fairgrounds as part of a massive proposed redevelopment at the fairgrounds. The last time HCC eyed its landholdings, in 2008, its efforts ended in controversy and embarrassment. A developer named Greg Neal proposed a large sports medicine clinic and hotel development on the college's grounds.

The college got deep into negotiations with him, but failed to vet his background. News broke that he had exaggerated some of his credentials and claimed to have lined up partnerships with prestigious companies that he really hadn't. The college eventually nixed the deal.

Carl said the college learned that it needs to hire experts to consider real estate deals and vet its potential partners.

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