GIBSONTON - An agreement between YMCA and Hillsborough County could bring much needed athletic fields, an aquatics center and other family-friendly facilities to the Gibsonton area. But the deal, which would provide a 30-year free lease of 40 acres of county land to the nonprofit, is not without some detractors.
Residents on both sides of the issue attended a meeting this week at East Bay High School's auditorium, which served as the project's last stop before the proposal is presented to Hillsborough County commissioners on Aug. 7.
The proposed location - a 40-acre lot adjacent to and south of Vance Vogel Park - was previously discussed during a public meeting in January 2012.
The first phase of the three-phase project would include three multi-purpose athletic fields, a single-court covered airnasium, a playground and parking lot. The estimated cost of the first phase, which is scheduled to be completed in April 2015, is $3.5 million. Hillsborough County has allocated $2 million to fund the first phase, with the Tampa Metropolitan Area YMCA providing the remaining $1.5 million.
Mary Beth Sultenfuss, owner of the Apollo Beach Racquet and Fitness Club, doesn't think the county should provide funds to start the project.
"The signs they posted for this meeting didn't say anything about your tax dollars paying for this project," Sultenfuss said, adding that there are about 40 businesses within five miles of the proposed site that offer similar services. "It's not going to hurt me that much because I'm exactly five miles away and in Apollo Beach, but there are lots of businesses much closer to that site that already do what they do."
Sultenfuss also worried that the property - which she described as "prime real estate" due to its close proximity to Interstate 75 and Big Bend road - would be taken off the tax rolls.
County spokesman Steve Valdez said the property is not on the tax rolls because it's owned by the Parks, Recreation and Conservation Department.
"So it's not for sale and it's not a taxable property," he said. The YMCA and the county agreed on a 30-year lease with three 10-year renewals.
Subsequent phases of the project will be paid for by the YMCA at a cost of about $5.4 million.
The second part of the first phase will include two additional multi-purpose fields and another airnasium. Phase 2 will feature an aquatics center and Phase 3 will include a multi-purpose family building, followed by additions to the family building.
Jason Hillman is the president and a coach for the East Bay Buccaneers Youth Football and Cheerleading organization. The group operates in Vance Vogel Park, and Hillman had concerns about flooding from Bullfrog Creek and what will happen once construction begins in what is currently one of the league's practice fields.
Kurt Gremley of Hillsborough's Real Estate and Facilities Service Department said the proposed agreement allows for joint and cooperative use of the YMCA's parking facilities and multi-purpose fields when they're not being used by the Y.
The entire project is scheduled for completion in 2016 or 2017, depending on fund raising.
Tom Looby, CEO of the Tampa YMCA, said the process of getting a facility in the area started in 2008.
"We had folks who kept calling and asking when they would get a YMCA in south county," he said. The site plan is based on an April 2010 market study - comprised of 698 phone interviews within a five-mile radius of I-75 and Big Bend Road - to determine demand in the area.
The cost for membership at the South County YMCA hasn't been determined, but the organization offers scholarships and uses an income-based scale to calculate fees.
Allen Witt, president of the Hillsborough Community College SouthShore Campus, believes there will be plenty of people lining up to join a YMCA in South County.
"When we opened, we were told that we wouldn't get more than 400 students," Witt said. The campus opened in 2008 and attracted more than 1,600 students during its first year. According to Witt, the school currently has 6,084 students.
"You're going to be surprised at the amount of people this gets if and when it opens," he said.