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Boys & Girls Club sees opportunity in multi-million dollar park transformation

Julian B. Lane Park makeover nearing completion
Posted at 7:14 PM, Mar 02, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-02 19:14:17-05

Julian B. Lane Park is nearing the finish line in a two-year, $35 million makeover.

When complete, the riverfront park will be connected by the Tampa Riverwalk, and with the recent development in Tampa Heights neighborhood, stretch the pedestrian-friendly urban core over the Hillsborough River.

"We are definitely opening up the river back to the people," says Brad Suder, the Superintendent of the Parks and Recreation Department for the City of Tampa.

"The park itself is an all-inclusive park," says Suder, who says the park will feature family-friendly games like dominoes, checkers and bocce ball, as well as fields where people can play team sports.

There's also a dog park planned, a splash pad, a pavilion for live performances, tennis courts, a playground, an indoor events space, and two special events lawns that Suder hopes will help alleviate the nearby Curtis Hixon Park from being so overwhelmed with activities.

There's also a boat storage area, and boat ramps.

"We are really trying to promote a lot of activity along the river," says Suder.

The riverfront park is also easily accessible to families in West Tampa, since it is on the West side of the Hillsborough River, but there's a large number of families who won't have easy access to the new amenities: the people who used to to live in the North Boulevard Homes complex.

The complex is being demolished. Hundreds of families were forced to move away.

"For generations a place they’ve called home is being transformed, but they either had to move out or found other opportunities outside of West Tampa," says Chris Letsos, CEO of The Boys and Girls Clubs of Tampa Bay.

Letsos's organization, based right next door to the Julian B. Lane Park in West Tampa, served those families and their kids, but since hundreds of families have left, he's concerned that many of the people who once occupied West Tampa won't have access to this multi-million dollar investment.

He's hoping to make sure they still will.

Letsos says it's too early to say how the Boys and Girls Clubs of Tampa Bay will handle the logistics, but he hopes to be able to bring kids in their program from all over Hillsborough County to the Park.

"The opportunity now to jump on a bus, or any way for us to get kids from all over Hillsborough County to come down to the river and see that Tampa is so much more than their every day, it truly becomes a place where all can become something special and something great," Letsos tells ABC Action News.

He sees the Julian B. Lane Park as a place "where they can come just five miles away from where they’re born and raised, and have never been out of Clair Mel or Dover or Wimauma. To come to a park where they can see downtown, see the University of Tampa, and really benefit from that investment," adds Letsos.

The 25-acre park is scheduled to re-open by Mother's Day.