Regardless Of Mayor, County Conflict Endures

In less than three months, the Iorio Administration will be half way through its term. A couple of observations:

Mayor Pam Iorio remains a mediameister’s dream public official. She is absolutely who you want out front, especially when empathy matters – which it always does. She connects with people and is not confrontational. The camera — as well as the podium and any microphone – still love her.

Having said that, how disappointing is it that one of her most critically important audiences – the Hillsborough County Commission — remains unmoved? In fact, the city-county relationship seems no better than before. Even with two new Hillsborough County commissioners, a solid “working relationship” still appears oxymoronic.

The mega, public-private sector Civitas development, of course, didn’t happen on Iorio’s watch because the county wouldn’t sign off. The recent county commission-influenced (read Ronda Storms) MPO vote against the street car indicated that new blood isn’t a transfusion of bi-partisanship.

Two points:

First, it’s as amazing as it is frustrating and embarrassing that this eastern side of the Tampa Bay market should still be sporting such a not-ready-for-prime-time, parochial perspective. Whether the mayor is named Iorio or Greco.

Most recent Exhibit A: The latest in counterproductive hyperbole from Commissioner Storms. As reported by the Tampa Tribune, she characterized the city’s attitude as one that says “we’re the center of the universe and all the planets rotate around us.”

That populist piffle plays well outside city limits, especially in the Rustic Belt, where so much growth – and resulting tax-base expansion — is occurring. And because the county administrator is appointed by the commission, some commissioners have fiefdom-like clout and points of view.

The result: Tampa, with 320,000 residents, is seemingly seen as merely the biggest city – with the biggest municipal ego – in the 1.1 million-resident county. Brandon on steroids.

What Tampa is, however, is what every other major metropolitan statistical area in the country has – a hub. A center-of-the-market, urban hub. It’s not a Copernicus-defying presence demanding tribute and obeisance, but it does do what all hubs do. It’s an economic engine and catalyst.

It’s reflected in the thousands who commute daily from the suburbs to Tampa. And it’s reflected in the economic ripples created by the likes of Tampa International Airport and the Port of Tampa.

It’s why the Bucs and Lightning and USF are here. It’s a reminder that office parks and residential developments don’t happen in a Valrico vacuum – as the word “suburban” suggests.

The second point: Now that the half-way mark approaches, look for the mayor to trot out the bully pulpit on occasion. The gloves – even the velvet ones – are off.

In fact, the pro-active, hard-ball approach on the new, yet-to-break-ground art museum was illustrative.

There’s a lot riding on the museum – for the city and the mayor. The $72-million project is the linchpin for a cultural arts district, which is, in turn, the key catalyst in downtown revitalization per se. It’s the cornerstone of the mayor’s plans for downtown.

It has to happen.

Yet the mayor’s mantra is to never put tax payers at risk, even for an economic development tool. Centro Ybor, The Sequel, is anathema to all Iorions.

And yet to wait for all the financial planets to align perfectly is to incur additional, project-threatening construction-cost increases. Already, the costs have risen by $10 million. And that revised construction price of $54 million is only good until Feb. 10.

The mayor, as we know, made a very high-profile demand last month for a “business plan” – as if the concept hadn’t occurred to anyone before. But it got everyone’s attention, got the trustees off the dime and gave the mayor cover. It also signaled to a few new arrivals in the business community that the time was now to ante up and make that debut commitment.

The museum’s board of trustees then produced financial backing for its share of the project, whereby they would be responsible for any operating-cost shortfalls. City Finance Director Bonnie Wise found the numbers credible and acceptable. The mayor than agreed to send the lease proposal and operational agreement to Tampa City Council this week (Jan. 6).

The trustees figure ticket sales (with prices increased from $7 to $10), plus memberships, program fees, corporate support and restaurant sales can carry the day operationally. It probably can – and not just for the first few years when sheer newness and novelty are big draws.

A much larger facility means the museum can display its full collection – and it’s extensive — and open itself to the sort of blockbuster exhibits that it currently can’t come close to accommodating.

Next up for the Tampa Museum of Art, for example, are two exhibitions: “Signs & Symbols/African American Quilts” and “The New York Yankees & The American Dream.” It can – and will — get better.

Look for ground to break sometime next month.

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