Want to join game on sports complex?

Published September 26, 2007

There are lots of reasons not to sweat next week's Hillsborough County Commission meeting, when the board is scheduled to take up Chairman Jim Norman's dream of building a sprawling sports complex out in the wilderness.
For instance:
1. Nothing cures those I-got-laid-off-from-my-government-job, my-kid's-after-school-program-was-cut, we're-in-one-big-property-tax-mess blues like a $40-million spending spree.
2. Remember those citizens who crowded County Center last month and got the commission to tuck tail and save at least some local wetlands protection? Buncha mouthy rabble-rousers.
3. A 150-acre sports park on some of the county's last remaining wilderness north of Plant City seems so much more appropriate than, say, a nice plaque to commemorate Norman's many years on the board.
4. And, hey, who doesn't love sprawl?
But seriously.
Hatched by Norman two years ago, Championship Park is envisioned as a major hub for soccer, baseball and softball tournaments from all over, to be paid from the half-cent community investment tax.
Here's the argument for building it: People who have studied the plan say the sports complex could pay its own operating costs. Norman says money made above that would go to the local parks and recreation department, a plan for funding the county parks system in the future. The price tag could even be scaled back to $37-million, which is still an amazing number of zeros.
Norman is a longtime advocate for kids in sports. Good for him. If you buy that the necessary restaurants and hotels and such will sprout up out there, his park might even seem feasible in fat financial times.
In the world we're occupying at the moment, it just doesn't.
Norman took some hits at a recent meeting in which hundreds of county jobs were cut and the likes of public access TV slashed in the name of budgeting. One person used the words "vanity" and "this monument to yourself" regarding his pet project.
Do not expect Norman to bow to criticism of his park next Wednesday morning. Expect a hard, fast pitch.
Asked Tuesday if he thought he had enough votes to get Championship Park passed, Norman said, "I'm guessing today, it's probably dead close."
During a wetlands hearing last month, Commissioner Brian Blair gave citizens a mere minute to talk, observing that e-mails, faxes and such are other ways voters can be heard. While this seemed insulting to speakers looking for some face time with elected officials, maybe he was on to something.
If you care, you might want to give him - and them - a call. Because it's up to the citizens to say whether Norman should get to build his dream.
-Commissioner Norman: (813) 272-5725.
-Commissioner Blair: (813) 272-5730.
-Commissioner Ken Hagan: (813) 272-5452.
-Commissioner Al Higginbotham: (813) 272-5740.
-Commissioner Kevin White: (813) 272-5720.
-Commissioner Mark Sharpe (813) 272-5735.
-Commissioner Rose Ferlita: (813)272-5470.