Wednesday, May 11, 2011


What do you think of when you hear the term "community center"? A place where kids play basketball after school? A place where senior citizens take self-defense classes? A place where you can hold a meeting for your civic organization for free? A place with gleaming hardwood floors, breathtaking chandeliers, European-inspired d├ęcor and 20 foot ceilings? If you picked every single one of those things, minus the first three, you're thinking about Tampa Bay's best community center, The Regent!
Built at a cost of $7 million in taxpayer money and sitting on 3.7 acres of land in Brandon, this vital community resource offers a 10,000 square foot ballroom, a bridal suite and a picturesque terrace. As executive director Kristen Kerr says, "The Regent can only be described as extraordinary."
Indeed, Kristen! It's so extraordinary that many civic leaders, some of whom were involved in the planning and execution of this project from the beginning and should therefor have a thorough understanding of what it's all about, were apparently caught completely unaware of it's extraordinariness:
"I would say what it's currently being advertised and used for is not part of what I envisioned." -- State Rep. Rachel Burgin, R-Riverview

"My understanding is the funds for this project were specifically for building the building." -- Sharon Subadan, deputy county administrator (regarding tax money being used to pay legal fees, property taxes and staff)
"It was conveyed to me that they (former paid project consultants Earl Lennard and Ron Pierce) were volunteers." -- Hillsborough County Commissioner Al Higginbotham

"I thought we were buying 4.2 acres." -- George May, former chairman, Brandon Community Advantage Center
 Ha ha ha! Nobody seems to know what's happening!

Sure, they don't
Something else that's extraordinary is that this grand facility also serves as a special needs hurricane shelter, which is how the non-profit group that built it (Brandon Community Advantage Center, an organization comprised almost entirely of Brandon Chamber of Commerce members) was granted access to the public money to do so! Also, The Regent has no full kitchen facilities to prepare meals for those with special dietary needs nor refrigeration for medicine. Imagine yourself lying on a cot, hungry, hooked up to a dialysis machine, wondering if you'll have a home to return to eventually. Wouldn't you rather be staring up at a breathtaking chandelier instead of some stupid basketball hoop? Extraordinary!
Of course, you can't expect such a grand, opulent venue to be available at a moment's notice on some kind of meteorological whim. It's best to book well in advance, lest you find yourself in a situation like this:
"Thank you for calling The Regent. May I help you?"
"Yes, this is Hillsborough County Emergency Management. I'm calling to advise you to begin preparing your facility. Expect to be activated as a special needs shelter within the next 72 hours."
"72 hours, let's see, that would be Saturday. Ooh, no can do."
"Excuse me?"
"That is the night of the Schwartzbaum wedding reception. Over 500 confirmed guests. I'm sorry, the venue is not available."
"Well, cancel it. There is a major storm bearing down on the area and we expect to be hit hard!"
"Hold on, let me take a look...hmm, Friday is the Henderson's Super Sweet 16 Party. And Sunday is a fundraiser dinner for the Marigold Society. You picked a terrible weekend to have your storm. We do have some limited openings the following weekend. Can you re-schedule?"
"It's a tropical storm! It's not something that's scheduled!"
"Ma'am, please do not yell at me. I'll have you know that we have breathtaking chandeliers!" 
"I don't think you understand what I'm talking about."
"I understand completely. Now, can I take your number and have one of our expert event coordinators call you back to plan your storm?"
"Plan....our storm?"
"Yes, go over logistics, costs. Remember, true value is found not just in the tangible objects, it is in the experience, in the passion, in the dedication, and in the professionalism of the people you will work with at The Regent. We will work with you to ensure a seamless storm."
"Clearly, you do not grasp the severity of this situation. We need to be able to move people with limited mobility, sight and hearing impairments and other special needs into that building within the next 72 hours."
"Well, there is one possibility..."
"Great. Whatever it takes to make it happen. I don't care."
"...if the Hendersons, Schwartzbaums and Marigold Society are all killed in this terrible storm I keep hearing about, you'll have first dibs. Deal?"
" extraordinary."
"It really is, ma'am!"


Mariella said...

Everyone pretended the Regent was supposed to be a hurricane shelter (wink, wink!) but it is not.

According to channel 10 news: "while the project was under construction, former Hillsborough Emergency Management Director Larry Gispert wrote an email saying, "The County Emergency management Office never approved the Center as special needs or a regular shelter. This location is NOT a part of the formal shelter program for our county. ... If they are claiming to be part of the County's shelter facility, then that is untrue."

We're paying $7 million for Brandon's little Taj Mahal, and it is still not an authorized shelter in the Hillsborough shelter system. Not for special needs, not for anyone.

It's in a freakin' flood zone.

Why, it's Clark! said...

Well, that is interesting because here's a quote from Gispert from the St. Pete Times on December 17: "I don't foresee us needing to designate it as a primary shelter, but it's there and we know it."
This place cracks me up.

Anonymous said...

While they built this "wink wink shelter they conducted a layoff of 46 park maintenance personal and 64 Recreation staff at the public's regular parks ! They will also close 30 rec centers around the county ! So Party on Brandon Elite !

Mariella said...

News Channel 8 now reports: "Jeff Copeland, Hillsborough County Emergency Management director, said the building will be used as a special needs shelter during hurricanes." They also point out: "Symmes Elementary School, which the county lists as a shelter in its hurricane plan, sits across the street from The Regent."