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Thursday, Oct 19, 2017
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Aquatic center, county seek land for bigger complex

BRANDON - Brandon Sports and Aquatic Center is outgrowing its digs in central Brandon, and the county needs a new sports complex that will raise revenue for the parks department. A marriage between the two could produce a new sports complex in eastern Hillsborough County featuring an indoor aquatics center marketed to attract state and national swimming events. "I asked Mark [Thornton] to reach out to the Brandon aquatic center and see if they have anything to bring to the table," Hillsborough County Commissioner Al Higginbotham said. He also asked Thornton, head of the county's Parks, Recreation and Conservation Department, to look at the possibility of buying a 130-acre parcel on U.S. 301 near the Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway to build such a complex. "The aquatic center has trained national and Olympic competitors, and they are wanting to expand," Higginbotham said, but they don't have the space to do so at their current location off State Road 60.
Thornton said he plans to deliver a report to the County Commission on April 7, which will include details of his meeting with the Brandon Sports and Aquatics Center board and the owners of the land near the Crosstown.
About $15 million is available through Capital Investment Tax revenue and the general fund, he said.
The upside to the land on U.S. 301 is that it is flat and has good road access. The downside could be the cost. Thornton declined to reveal the asking price until he completes his report but did say the land's cost could be a deal breaker. The latest consensus among members of the Tampa Bay Sports Commission is the need for all-purpose fields that could be used for football, lacrosse, rugby and soccer, Thornton said.
Pools are expensive to operate, Thornton said. But, if the county can build a multi-purpose facility that could raise revenue and Brandon Sports and Aquatics could run it and organize moneymaking events, the match could work, he said. "Nothing is off the table at this point," he said. Ron Pierce, chairman of the board, said the not-for-profit aquatics center is most definitely interested in a partnership with the county. "Our challenge is that we don't have the revenue to build and the county doesn't have the people to operate a new complex." Therein lies the partnership, Pierce said. "Our program would transfer over to the new site, as long as it's east of I-75," Pierce said, noting that on a daily basis, including the after-school program, some 800 people come through the sports center. That includes swimming, tennis, martial arts and gymnastics. "We can bring the national meets here," Pierce said. "We've had more medals come out of here than some small countries have produced."

Reporter Yvette C. Hammett can be reached at (813) 627-4763.

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