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Bay area mayors offer latest thoughts on the region

Mark Parker

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From Left: Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor and St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch at the Suncoast Tiger Bay's State of the Bay event. Photo by Mark Parker.

The Suncoast Tiger Bay Club kicked off its 45th year in grand fashion Tuesday, bringing the area’s most prominent leaders together to discuss the “State of the Bay.”

The University of South Florida St. Petersburg hosted the annual event, which featured Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard, St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch and Tampa Mayor Jane Castor. Local government officials and community stakeholders from across Tampa Bay filled the USFSP ballroom to hear the mayors’ thoughts.

Catalyst publisher Joe Hamilton moderated the discussion on topics dominating regional discourse. Welch reiterated his focus on intentional, inclusive progress in 2022, and Hamilton asked the first-year mayor if he thought residents needed some time to adjust to a “foundational change.”

“When folks – from CEOs to college students – talk to me about the criticality of housing and affordable housing, and how they cannot afford to live in our city, then I don’t think it’s surprising when we make that a priority,” said Welch.

He used his rejection of Moffit Cancer Center and TPA Group’s $5 million offer to purchase a 4.59-acre city-owned site in St. Petersburg as an example. The proposal entailed building an expansive cancer treatment facility and residential tower, with a portion of units reserved for affordable housing.

Welch dismissed the proposal in August and relayed his belief that the affordable housing offering didn’t justify giving up $19 million in value.

“You have to live your priorities,” he added.

Suncoast Tiger Bay’s leadership announced the Rays are a new sponsor for the nonpartisan organization that serves as a public square for civic discourse. Welch and Castor are both vying to provide the next home for the Tampa Bay Rays, and the team’s owner and president attended Tuesday’s event.

After years of jockeying, Castor said Welch is “up to bat first” at this juncture. Team officials and the Hines development group together submitted one of four proposals to redevelop the current Tropicana Field site and former Historic Gas Plant District.

While Castor stressed the importance of keeping the Rays anywhere in “Champa Bay,” she expressed that Tampa provides the best location for fans throughout the region.

Developer Darryl Shaw is under contract to purchase several acres of land from International Ship Repair between Ybor City and Port Tampa Bay. Castor called the location “outstanding” geographically, with I-4 providing easier access for fans living in the Orlando area.

“And then having that excitement of an urban core that most major league teams are looking for right now,” she added. “We have that in our city. So, we have a lot to offer.”

The St. Petersburg Municipal Marina is another critical project for Welch. He announced his plans to issue a request for proposal (RFP) for its renovations, management and operation at the event.

Welch relayed that he was ready to move forward with an unsolicited proposal from Tennessee-based Safe Harbor Development put forth during former Mayor Rick Kriseman’s administration. He said the latest cost analysis shows the city would save at least $7 million by letting an outside entity oversee the marina’s extensive renovations and operations.

However, Welch realizes he doesn’t have the six “yes” votes needed from city council members to complete the deal.

“And I understand their perspective,” said Welch. “Part of the pattern on these deals … is that they were unsolicited proposals. It’s someone else shaping your vision of your priorities for a parcel or facility.”

Hibbard announced he would not seek reelection – or any other public office – when his mayoral term ends next year. He joked that Castor could use a little more humility when discussing the City of Tampa, but noted that the three leaders enjoy a good relationship and often meet for lunch.

The only thing he believes they could do better, explained Hibbard, is leveraging their regional legislative power.

He noted that unlike the Cities of Orlando or Jacksonville – which enjoy a unified focus – the Tampa Bay metro area encompasses many municipalities and features many legislative representatives lobbying for their districts in Tallahassee.

Hibbard believes a more unified voice would increase funding opportunities for critical issues like regional transportation and affordable housing.

“I’m not asking for more, but I want my fair share,” he said. “Both on the federal and state level.”

Castor and Welch staunchly agreed that increasing transportation opportunities around Tampa Bay should be a continuing focus for area officials. They believe that would also support economic development and help mitigate the affordable housing crisis. Castor called inadequate transit options the region’s Achilles heel.

Hibbard said increasing density would incentivize developers to build more housing, and coupling that with more transportation options would reduce the overall cost of living in the area.

“They (residents) don’t care where city and county boundaries are,” opined Hibbard. “They just want to get to work and get home and have a quality of life and affordability.”

 

 

 

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    Danny E White

    January 3, 2023at4:39 pm

    Congrats, Suncoast Tiger Bay Club, for a meaningful program today at USFSP with the Mayors! Totally enjoyed it!

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