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Wednesday, May 23, 2018
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Buckhorn budget includes money to restore Cuscaden pool

— When Mayor Bob Buckhorn presents his 2015 budget to Tampa City Council on Thursday morning, it will contain the first wave of funds for restoring Cuscaden Pool.

The decision is a victory for city council members, who have spent years pressing Buckhorn and his staff for the money to put the historic pool in the V.M. Ybor neighborhood back into service. It closed in 2009.

Last December, Councilman Frank Reddick urged Buckhorn to put the pool in the 2015 budget. In June, Buckhorn’s staff offered the council a slate of options for the pool, including demolishing it.

Ultimately, Buckhorn said there would be no money for the pool in the foreseeable future.

But the city’s financial picture has brightened. An anticipated $15 million budget deficit has shrunk to $8.4 million, which Buckhorn hopes to close without another trip to the city’s reserves.

With that little bit of financial breathing room, Buckhorn reversed his stance on Cuscaden.

“Having a pool is important to the neighborhood, but equally as important should be the investment we can make in saving a Tampa landmark,” Buckhorn, who was out of town, said in a statement Tuesday. “When we can do that and where it makes sense to, as I believe it does this year for Cuscaden, we will.”

Buckhorn’s 2015 budget, which takes effect Oct. 1, includes $300,000 for Cuscaden. Another $1.5 million is planned for the 2016 budget.

But that also means it could be another three years before the pool is functional again.

Reddick, whose district includes Cuscaden Pool, said he was surprised to learn Friday that Buckhorn had had a change of heart on the pool.

The first phase will include hiring engineers to assess the condition of the 77-year-old above-ground pool, which has sat empty and baking in the sun for five years, he said.

In his effort to get Buckhorn to fund repairs to Cuscaden, Reddick passed around photos late last year showing significant amounts of water damage and decay inside the historic structure’s brick base.

“They did not like me showing those pictures,” Reddick said Tuesday.

Reddick said he would like to see Buckhorn’s two-step repair process condensed to a single budget year to get the pool opened sooner than 2017.

Cuscaden Pool was built in the 1937 by the federal Works Progress Administration. It underwent nearly $3 million in renovations that ended in 2005.

By 2009, the pool was leaking 450,000 gallons of water a year, and then-Mayor Pam Iorio shut it down.

Ali Glisson, the mayor’s spokeswoman, noted that restoring Cuscaden will be part an ongoing effort to preserve some of the city’s most historic structures.

“In the last three years, we put a priority on activating and repurposing some of Tampa’s most identifiable and historic properties,” Glisson said.

Downtown’s federal courthouse reopened this year as a boutique hotel. Davis Islands’ Jenkins Pool, a twin of Cuscaden, will reopen in August after repairs. In Tampa Heights, the century-old Water Works building will open this summer as the Ulele restaurant.

Cuscaden and Jenkins pools are the legacy of Wesley Bintz, a Michigan engineer who patented the above-ground structures nearly a century ago. Over 50 years starting in 1919, Bintz pools went up in communities from Maine to Florida, New York to Texas.

Glisson said the city’s current plans for Cuscaden call for putting it back into service without the major alternations considered last month.

“We wanted a solution that addressed and saved the historic structure, which took some of those options off the table,” Glisson said. “Given that narrowed set of options, rehabilitating the existing structure is the most cost effective and has the shortest anticipated construction time period.”

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