From addressing the lack of affordable properties to meeting the needs of the influx of people moving to Tampa Bay, local mayors have a lot on their to-do lists.
During a CREW Economic Summit event Wednesday, St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor and Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard addressed concerns on the hot topics their communities are facing with many exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Here are the highlights of what the elected officials had to say about confronting the various challenges.
On affordable housing
Kriseman: One of the things we did very well in was creating the largest CRA [Community Redevelopment Agency] in the county that invests in not just infrastructure, but people. For the Deuces, we are working with a developer to build townhomes. We are going to sell them, not rent them so people can take ownership and start building wealth along that corridor. We will then build 28,000 square feet of retail on 22nd Street. We are going to contract with a local community group who will manage and run it and put the profit in a redevelopment fund that reinvests into the community. Our focus is on equity and reducing poverty.
Castor: As many of you know, we have been behind on our housing availability since 2009. Our stock has never really recovered and now we’re just expanding that lack of availability. We have developers who never entered the affordability arena before that now understand the significance of it. Looking at these neighborhoods we are creating—Water Street, Tampa Heights, Downtown, West Tampa, Westshore, Midtown—workforce housing has to be part of that. We are looking at everything from tiny homes to multi-family. Nothing is off the table, there’s that much of a need.
On residential real estate challenges
Kriseman: The only time we are going to see prices come down is when there’s more supply than there is demand and right now, it’s completely the opposite. When you build supply, you do it in a smart way, you build with an affordable component to it. In our case, in some of our properties, it’s a requirement as part of the development and that’s one way to see it. It’s a problem right now when people are moving down and paying all cash for homes.
Castor: I do see it as problematic, locals trying to get into the market don’t have a fair chance. I was recently in Miami, and you can’t get a home unless you have cash, and it is way beyond the asking price. A lot of that I believe will settle. Outside investment, we do have to be cognizant of that when it comes to low income and focus on some rental approaches.
On office inventory
Kriseman: People want to interact [especially now at the tail end of the pandemic]. There’s a connection with another human being and creativity that can’t be spurred through Zoom. We have been looking at a new municipal services center and we initially thought we don’t need as much square footage as what we currently have, because of what Covid has taught us. But as things have continued, that’s not the case. We need that space. We look to have more office developments in downtown. We need housing, but we need offices too.
Hibbard: I firmly believe people still like to be face-to-face. I don’t know what the shift is going to be. I think it still remains to be seen, but I don’t think we are going to deviate as much as we think we are.
On other projects and goals
Castor: One area we are looking at is the opportunity zones. We have 22 opportunity zones in the city and we are getting a contract coming forward from a firm to develop a perspective on each of them and we partnered with Tampa Bay Economic Development Council who has someone to recruit those businesses to those locations.
Hibbard: Imagine Clearwater [which has a plan to create a destination in Coachman Park] is a $65 million project that’s going to transform part of downtown’s waterfront. The amphitheater will seat 15,000 people to attend concerts, it will have green space, playgrounds. It will be a catalytic project for downtown. We do have other waterfront parcels we have issued requests for proposals for.
We did try to get a referendum to lease The Landings, which is a 77-acre golf course that is faltering. We were going to build 750,000 square feet of industrial space there [however, the referendum was rejected by voters]. It would have been the best way to make sure that we have local jobs. We are now working on the final touches of our CRA. There is a lot of underutilized land on our waterfront that sits on a natural bluff, so there are development opportunities there.