Tampa debates use of $1 million in unspent Super Bowl money
EAST TAMPA - One of the perks of being a host city for the Super Bowl is a sizeable donation from National Football League’s charitable foundation. More than $1 million is spent annually on Youth Education Town (YET) Centers that provide recreational activities for at-risk children and teens. Tampa has been the recipient of NFL dollars twice, in 2001 and again in 2009. The first time the money went toward construction costs for the Jackson Heights NFL Yet Center. Hillsborough County also received funds for a YET center at Mort Park. The Tampa area shares a distinction with San Diego. Both cities have hosted the Super Bowl more than once and each has two YET centers. For Tampa’s second donation from the NFL, Jackson Heights and Mort Park split the money with each receiving $500,000 for upgrades to the centers. More than three years after the latter donation, the money remains unspent. Tampa is getting ready to spend its share on an expansion at Jackson Heights.With NFL approval, the total amount could be directed toward Jackson Heights. “Most cities only have one center. We talked about combining them,” said Mark Thornton, Hillsborough’s director of parks, recreation and conservation. “Theirs (the city’s Jackson Heights Center) was a much bigger facility. We want to put it to good use.” Due to on-going budget constraints, Thornton said, Mort Park’s YET center does not have staff members. There currently are no plans to spend the county’s $500,000. “The ball is with them (NFL) to tell us what they would like us to do,” said Thornton. The merger idea was made about a year ago, he said. Tampa City Councilman Frank Reddick expressed frustration with the Jackson Heights construction delay at last week’s council meeting. “I don’t want to see $500,000 be lost by the city,” he said. Greg Bayor, the city’s parks and recreation director, told council members work will begin Monday on an approximately 1,000-square-foot addition to the community center. An outdoor restroom and concession stand also will be built at the football field. Completion is expected by September. The Tampa council in December approved a $452,000 contract for the Jackson Heights expansion. City officials said a merger with the county still is possible even though the city is moving forward with its construction plan. The initial project included a weight room and activity room, but after negotiations with the NFL that was changed to a weight room and media center, according to an email from Ali Glisson, Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s spokeswoman. “We want to build a good center that meets the community needs, and this design will do that,” said Glisson in the email. NFL representatives have told Reddick they are eager to come to Tampa to celebrate the Jackson Heights expansion. Tampa is under consideration again as a Super Bowl host city for 2016 or 2017. “The least the city can do is (to) recognize this with some ceremony and dedication,” said Reddick. City officials said a ribbon-cutting ceremony is planned when construction is completed.