It’s easy to view the recent diversion of proposed funding for the “Avenue of Arts” project to the city’s parks and recreation department as an unfortunate, but necessary, aesthetic hit for Tampa. Even City Councilwoman — and arts avatar — Linda Saul-Sena signed off on the transfer of Community Investment Tax money from downtown to pools and parks. That had to be a Hobson’s choice.
To some, converting Zack Street into an artsy, two-way, pedestrian-friendly thoroughfare was an unaffordable frill during turbulent budgetary times. But as we’ve learned countless times, the arts also have economic clout. A recent national survey, for example, has estimated that Hillsborough County’s nonprofit arts industry generated nearly $300 million in economic activity and was responsible for more than 8,000 full-time equivalent jobs in 2008. It also raised more than $11 million in local tax revenues. In short, the arts are no abstraction. Neither are they isolated venues where the effete and elite meet.
In other words, Zack Street is about a lot more than arts.
Not surprisingly, Mark Huey, Tampa’s economic and development administrator, sees the transfer of CIT funds, however well-intentioned, as short-sighted. He was envisioning a pedestrian-friendly corridor that would connect the Franklin Street business district with the burgeoning waterfront that will soon feature the Tampa Museum of Art, the Glazer Children’s Museum, Curtis Hixon Park and ripple-effect retail.
“We’re building an economic engine along the waterfront,” Huey told City Council. “If we don’t connect them, it won’t work.”
Huey obviously didn’t connect well enough with the Council.