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Ruskin fire station eyed for community cultural center

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Ruskin — A 10-year-old dream soon may be realized here.

For at least the last decade, local leaders have talked about a dedicated community cultural center, preferably on a downtown site as part of the long-term business district revitalization. The conversation turned determined as Ruskin’s formal Community Plan was hammered out earlier in this decade, citing the center as a specific objective.

Melody Jameson
Soon to be vacated, the Ruskin Fire and Rescue building (above), located in the heart of the community’s business district, could morph into its next stage of usefulness in short order. The 4,600-square-foot, concrete block structure was earmarked for wide ranging community functions October 6 with a formal resolution conveying it in principle to the not-for-profit Ruskin Community Development Foundation.
And, on October 6, Hillsborough’s Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) gave solid shape to the dream, formally agreeing in principle to convey the soon-to-be-vacated Ruskin Fire Department building to the Ruskin Community Development Foundation (RCDF) specifically as “a multi-use community cultural and arts center.” The transfer is contingent on a single condition – submission of a “financially feasible business plan.”

That plan, demonstrating how RCDF will support long term management and operation of the new community feature, now is being drafted, according to Sandy Council, chairman of the local leadership group working with county officials. It is being formulated by a sub-committee led by Ron Wolfe, business consultant, Ruskin resident and RCDF member. Completion is expected by late winter, Council said.

The timeline coincides with the county’s outlook on opening the new Ruskin Fire Rescue station on East College Avenue at 4th Street. Finishing touches on the new three-bay facility with an “old Florida” appearance are anticipated by spring , 2011, said Peggy Hamric, a manager in Hillsborough’s Real Estate Department. Both staff and equipment are expected to be settled in the new station by early summer.

The single story, soon-to-be former fire house, a long rectangular concrete block structure enclosing about 4,900 square feet of space, is a nearly ideal site for the community’s cultural center, Council said. Facing the intersection of lst Street and lst Avenue, it is located in the heart of the downtown district, easily accessed from three primary thoroughfares, U.S. Highway 41, College Avenue East and East Shell Point Road. In addition, it offers a raised ceiling section “with good acoustics” at one end and large openings suited to some artistic activities, she noted. It also is in a good structural condition for use as a community center, recently was reroofed, and is adequately equipped with the necessary plumbing and wiring. About 2,065 square feet of the space is air conditioned. From a real estate perspective, the site is valued at $650,000, Council added.

Ultimately, it is envisioned that a wide variety of community activities, from education to performance, from music, the graphic, culinary and theater arts to exhibits and recognitions of Ruskin’s rich historic past, can be housed in the new center. Not yet named, the facility is being referred to for working purposes as the “John Ruskin Cultural Center” or “The Fire House Community Center.”

Melody Jameson
Ruskin’s new fire rescue facility (above) is taking shape rapidly in the northeast corner of the S.R. 674 (East College Avenue) and 4th Street intersection, a few blocks southeast of its current location. The new station, designed with an “old Florida” look, is expected to receive personnel as well as the assigned collection of fire fighting and rescue vehicles next spring. The old facility at lst and lst is being eyed as a community cultural center to house and showcase the community’s wide array of artistic talent along with symbols of its rich history.
Converting the vision to reality, however, rests heavily on a workable business plan acceptable to the county, Council cautioned. Basic expenses to be met will include periodic insurance premiums, regular building maintenance and routine utility bills. Added to this will be any interior modifications to accommodate its new functions as well as any needed supplies and accessories related to various public functions. The business plan detailing how such expenses will be handled must be “feasible,” containing “true numbers,” she emphasized.

Council noted two specific options for help with funding: pledges of contributions and sponsorships backed by letters of commitment provided by individuals and organizations from the community at large and an already existing relationship with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. USDA, long involved through its rural assistance programs with underwriting affordable housing in the area, most recently partnered with RCDF in exploring establishment of a localized business incubator in Ruskin. The two entities did not reach agreement on creating the incubator, but RCDF will discuss the proposed center serving a still rural community with USDA authorities, Council indicated. Yet another approach may be grants, she added. This funding type has been used successfully in the past to help maintain another RCDF project, the Camp Bayou environmental learning center on the Little Manatee River.

Council, once a teacher at Ruskin Elementary School, also commended the work of the 20-member leadership committee which concentrated in recent months on formal proposal of the new center for county commissioners. The group represents major aspects of the community including Hillsborough Community College, the Ruskin-Southshore Chamber of Commerce, the Southshore Arts Council, Fifth Third Bank , the Arts Council of Hillsborough County, Friends of the Southshore Regional Library, the Southshore Roundtable and the Southshore Symphony Orchestra, plus local historians, she said. They did “a heroic job,” she added, creating “a true community collaboration.”

Copyright 2010 Melody Jameson
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