By Matt Wiley
The New Tampa area is officially one step closer to having its own cultural center, community theater and dog park — which are all planned to built on Bruce B. Downs (BBD) Blvd. (across from Hunter’s Green) — as Hillsborough County officially has approved the sale of nearly 18 acres of land at the site to a developer.
During the July 15 Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) meeting, the Board voted unanimously (7-0) to approve the $2,02-million sale of 17.6 acres of land across from Hunter’s Green to Hunter’s Lake, LLC, which plans to develop not only a theater and cultural center, but also additional retail and multi-family residential units. The development tentatively is being called The Village at Hunter’s Lake.
“It feels good (to get the sale approved),” says David Freeman, president of Harrison Bennett Properties, LLC, which is developing the project as Hunter’s Lake, LLC. “We’re very anxious to get the process started. We have a lot of things to do out there. Hopefully, we’ll be getting the rezoning started (with the City of Tampa) fairly soon, but not immediately.”
Although the land is part of an 80-acre parcel owned by Hillsborough County, it sits within the Tampa city limits, so it is subject to the city’s zoning ordinances. In order to be cleared for the type of development planned for Hunter’s Lake, it will have to go through the city’s rezoning process. Freeman says that Hunter’s Lake will be home to a mixed-use “village center,” which will include a 20,000-sq.-ft. cultural center with community theater (expandable to 30,000 sq. ft.) and a three-acre dog park.
The Hunter’s Lake proposal also includes plans for 90-250 residential units in the form of condos, townhomes or “boutique” apartments, as well as a “green grocer” with frontage on BBD and other shops and restaurants, totaling 80,000 sq. ft. The development will not allow any fast food establishments or gas stations. Despite rumors and gossip about who the “green” grocer might be, Freeman says that it’s still much too early to have any tenants already lined up.
Once Hunter’s Lake and the county close on the sale (which Freeman says is in the works), the contract will officially be approved. Then, land inspections can begin, which include surveying and other “due diligence” work. Freeman says that once those inspections have been completed, the rezoning process can begin.
“We’ve got a fairly long process ahead of us still,” Freeman says, adding that he’s been told that the rezoning process itself can take at least six months to complete after the application is submitted.
“We’re well under way,” says Dist. 2 Comm. Victor Crist, who represents New Tampa on the BOCC. “(The county) is meeting with planners and architects to help design the park site. We’re making a few tweaks and then we’ll sit down with the other commissioners to get their input.”
Crist says that the project — which will mirror the aesthetics of Hunter’s Green — is estimated to cost about $9 million and that the county currently has about $5.5 million budgeted, including the $2 million from the developer. He says that the county hopes to make up the remaining $3.5 million from the state or the private sector.
“The (cultural center) is expensive,” Crist says, adding that the cost of lighting, soundproofing and other details for the theater contribute to the price tag. So far, the first floor is pretty much planned, he says. It will include the theater with a legitimate, professional stage and 300 built-in theater seats, rather than just space for chairs on a floor. The center also will include two classrooms, storage rooms, locker rooms, make-up rooms and a multi-purpose room with a full kitchen. A corridor through the center of the building will be wide enough to accommodate event receptions.
The idea, Crist says, is to build something that can host several different kinds of events throughout the day. For now, the second floor will be built, but not “built out” (finished), so that it can be built to suit for a future partner program provider.
“The goal is to attract several program providers for the best value and utilization (of the cultural center),” he explains. “It has to be sustainable.”
Crist says that the county already is working with the New Tampa Players theater troupe on details for the theater and that talks are planned with several other program providers, including the Patel Center for the Performing Arts, which has a program based in downtown Tampa and potentially could offer an extension of that program in New Tampa.
Crist says that he plans to also reach out to the University of South Florida, Hillsborough Community College and the Life Enrichment Center of North Tampa (which provides programs for seniors about 13 miles from the site of the future cultural center) about hosting programs at the facility in the future.
“We want to create a sense of community for New Tampa, a place to gather and enjoy,” Crist says. “It’s time there’s more investment up here.”