Tampa Electric and partners break ground on new conservation and technology center

At the Jan. 10 groundbreaking ceremony, from left to right, are Hillsborough county commissioners Al Higginbotham and Sandy Murman; Gordon Gillette, president of Tampa Electric and Peoples Gas; Thom Stork, executive director of the Florida Aquarium; FWC Chairman Kenneth Wright; and state Rep. Dana Young.

At the Jan. 10 groundbreaking ceremony, from left to right, are Hillsborough county commissioners Al Higginbotham and Sandy Murman; Gordon Gillette, president of Tampa Electric and Peoples Gas; Thom Stork, executive director of the Florida Aquarium; FWC Chairman Kenneth Wright; and state Rep. Dana Young.

Tampa Electric and Peoples Gas President Gordon Gillette put a commemorative shovel in the ground in Apollo Beach, Fla., with other community leaders Jan. 10, turning the first soil on what will become a showcase of environmental stewardship.

Tampa Electric, the Florida Aquarium and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) broke ground on a conservation and technology center that will rise on the site of a former fish farm located just south of Tampa Electric’s free Manatee Viewing Center. When completed, the new center, which also will be free to the public, will include an energy technology center, a center for conservation, a fish hatchery, an educational facility, catch and release fishing programs, waterways for kayaking and more.

Tampa Electric's Stan Kroh explains the habitat restoration work that Dowdell Middle Magnet School students are about to undertake.

Tampa Electric’s Stan Kroh explains the habitat restoration work that Dowdell Middle Magnet School students are about to undertake.

Tom Hernandez, vice president of Energy Supply, emceed the event and has been a longtime champion of the new center. Gillette recognized Hernandez and Thom Stork, executive director of the Florida Aquarium, for having the vision and taking leadership roles in bringing this concept to fruition. In a breeze under a tent packed with members of the media and community, Hernandez thanked officials at the Florida Aquarium and FWC for their unique partnership to restore the Newman Branch Creek area. Invasive vegetation choked the once-thriving fish hatchery before Tampa Electric purchased the property in the 1980s and later launched an effort to restore the habitat.

“Tampa Electric’s focus on the community means that for us, reliability and environmental stewardship are equally important, and this conservation and technology center is the very essence of that – thanks to the support of many people who have laid the groundwork for a place with incredible potential,” Hernandez said. “If you can see the vision of this site, we’re going to make it a lot more beautiful today.”

Dowdell students get down to the business of adding native species to Newman Branch Creek, laying the groundwork for the restoration to its natural form.

Dowdell students get down to the business of adding native species to Newman Branch Creek, laying the groundwork for the restoration to its natural form.

Following the ceremony, about 75 volunteers spread across the muddy banks of the creek to introduce 3,000 native plants to the habitat. Participants included people from the Florida Aquarium and students from Dowdell Middle Magnet School, Hillsborough County’s only middle school with an environment-focused curriculum and a partner in previous Newman Branch restoration efforts.

“(The Florida conservation and technology center) is an investment in the youth of our state,” said Kenneth Wright, chairman of FWC. “The next generation will be here talking about future dreams that have come to pass.”

The partners expect to complete the Florida Conservation and Technology Center in three to five years. See scenes from the groundbreaking and learn more about the project on Tampa Electric’s YouTube channel.   

Here's an overview of plans for the conservation and technology park.

Here’s an overview of plans for the conservation and technology center.

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