It’s a predicament that Tim Lancaster, a member of the committee and president of the Temple Terrace Preservation Society, told City Council members about during a Nov. 5 meeting.
The committee is interested in reconstructing the tower. The city’s original bat tower was built in 1924 along the banks of the Hillsborough River behind what is now 933 Riverhills Drive.
Temple Terrace developers cleared the land for the structure. Arsonists burned it down in 1979.
(For more information about the history of the bat tower, watch the University of South Florida Humanities Institute’s videos that appear with this story.)
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The island is the first choice for the committee, and bat experts George and Cyndi Marks with the Florida Bat Conservancy think it’s an ideal location for a bat tower, Lancaster explained. The problem is figuring out the island’s owner so the committee can ask permission to build the tower.
“So far as we know, no governing agency can confidently tell us who even owns it,” Lancaster said. “We pursued meetings with the EPC (Environmental Protection Commission of Hillsborough County). We also had a meeting with the Tampa Port Authority in which they said the island site wasn’t impossible, but they pretty much suggested that it was a long shot.”
The committee has also talked to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Army Corps of Engineers to find out who has authority over the land to no avail.
So, Lancaster said, the committee focused its attention to Riverhills Park itself, and asked the council to allow the bat tower to be built there.
“The area that we’ve identified as the prime site within the park boundaries is—if you’re familiar with Riverhills Park where the boat ramp is—there’s a grassy area just to the west of the actual boat ramp,” he said.
It’s the second choice after the island site.
But the council and Mayor Joe Affronti encouraged the committee to pursue the island site.
Councilwoman Alison Fernandez said city officials could help the committee if it runs into another government entity’s red tape.
“Perhaps some of us can make phone calls or something…, ” she said.
The council unanimously approved its support for the bat tower to be built in Riverhills Park if the island site falls through. It did not approve a site in the park specifically.
The committee has a grant application pending and expects to have the money to build the tower “in the near future,” Lancaster said.
“The benefits of the project include developing a unique attraction for the City of Temple Terrace that will also provide benefits in regard to both eco and heritage tourism activity,” Lancaster told the council. “And there’s also the potential—if we get enough bats in there—to potentially reduce the amount of pesticides used to control the bat population.”
A year ago, the committee and the Markses were looking to build the tower on land owned by the Southwest Florida Water Management District across from the Hilltop Dog Park. Since then, the city and civic groups have been thinking about developing a historic/eco boat tour on the Hillsborough River in Temple Terrace.
“The bat tower would make an ideal feature for a tour of that sort, so it was decided we should build the tower somewhere on or near the river within (the Temple Terrace) city limits on city property,” Lancaster wrote in an email. “The remains of the original tower would also be a focal point of the boat tour.”