Hillsborough rejects $40M sports complex

10/03/07 Mitch E. Perry
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A $40-million sports complex proposed for northeastern Hillborough was rejected this afternoon during a County Commission meeting.

Board Chairman Jim Norman, who championed the proposal, said funding would have come from the Community Investment Tax (CIT).

But Norman failed to persuade any of his fellow commissioners to back the project.

Championship Park would have included 30 multipurpose fields for soccer, 12 baseball diamonds, 10 softball fields, and would have been built on Cone Ranch, just north of Plant City in northeastern Hillsborough County.

Environmentalist Denise Layne reminded the commissioners that the county bought Cone Ranch to protect its water resources.

Before the meeting began, there were indications that the votes might not be there to approve the project, first introduced by Norman two years ago.

But Marcel O’Steen, invoking the hybrid plan that was conceived when a bid to eliminate the Wetlands division of the Environmental Protection Commission was thwarted, said the project needed to die today.

Gary Mitchell, a former public access producer, minced few words in denouncing the Park.

Plant City Mayor Rick Lott spoke on behalf of the project; but he admitted there were still many unanswered questions, and suggested postponing a final decision.

It only went downhill for Norman once his fellow Board members had their say.

Kevin White said he didn't know many parents who could afford the cost of having their kids play in the tournaments that would be coming to Championship Park.

Fellow Republican Brian Blair, who also coaches youth athletic teams, said there is a crying need for more ballfields in the county but took issue with the cost of the Championship Park proposal.

Ken Hagen said he was excited when he first learned of Championship Park in 2005, and repeated today that he had enthusiastically supported the feasibility study.

But Hagen said he always thought the facility would be used as a spring training home for a professional baseball team. Part of the concept would also be for hotels and restaurants to be built near the complex. But as of now, Hagen said he had a rough time envisioning that happening.

After allowing every board member to speak, Norman blasted some of his colleagues for referencing tough economic times now, saying it isn’t deterring Mayor Pam Iorio with her plans for Tampa, or commissioner Rose Ferlita’s comments when she voted to support other projects with CIT funding when she was on the Tampa City Council.

And Norman said it would be the children of Hillsborough County that would suffer.

County Administrator Pat Bean said, after a public hearing, commissioners will need to reallocate the $40-million that had been set aside for the sports complex.

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