Good move, Tampa City Council.
Two weeks ago, the council eliminated $2 million in Community Investment Tax money designated for the Zack Street “Avenue of the Arts” project. It was an understandable move prompted by turbulent economic times and the prioritized neighborhood needs of the parks and recreation departments. A week and some serious City Hall lobbying later, the council restored $1 million for Zack in a 5-2 vote. Ironically, Mary Mulhern and arts patron saint Linda Saul-Sena were the two dissenters.
But it was the right, pragmatic call.
Mayor Pam Iorio and Mary Huey, the city’s economic and development administrator, obviously made the case that this didn’t have to be a zero-sum exercise pitting a reconfigured “artsy” thoroughfare against pools and parks. In short, the arts have economic clout. Cities overlook that reality at their own peril, especially during a recession. For example, we know from recent studies that this 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.
In Tampa’s case, two-way, pedestrian-friendly Zack Street — replete with murals, sculptures and engraved, sidewalk poetry — would be the key connector between the Franklin Street business district and the city’s burgeoning waterfront. The latter will soon feature the Tampa Museum of Art, the Glazer Children’s Museum and Curtis Hixon Park. To badly paraphrase Gertrude Stein, Tampa will shortly have a sense of “‘there’ there.” But it can’t afford to leave it there, untethered from in-town.
Not unlike the streetcar, an artsy Zack Street is an economic development tool. In this case, a catalytic one that can help realize the synergetic potential between the revitalized riverfront and downtown businesses. It’s what progressive cities do. They find ways to bring people downtown. They know that aesthetics and economics can — and should — be complements.