TIA Reminder

As we’ve all been noticing, there’s no lack of lists that rank cities and amenities for all kinds of things.  From relevant to immaterial. But the one from Conde Nast Traveler that ranked TIA the fifth-best airport in the country–and the only Florida airport to make the top 10–was spot on. It referenced TIA’s “vision of the future from 50 years ago” to the ongoing expansion projects that enable it “to jet into this century and beyond.”

In short, TIA, which was presciently built in a non-suburban location, has always prioritized passengers over planes. It became the model for urban-market airports. Ask Orlando.

Ulele Perspective

The flap over the location of that Princess Ulele bust near the Riverwalk is unworthy of the flappers–Bob Buckhorn and Richard Gonzmart. The latter, a natural resource for Tampa for all he has envisioned and invested, had ordered and paid for the public art, an homage to Native Americans. But yes, Gonzmart came up short on due diligence; it wasn’t on Gonzmart’s Ulele Restaurant property, but technically on public land. At variance with codes. But it was hardly “clutter.” That seemed insensitive and petty. The city ordered it removed, and it’s now in a warehouse. So much for that artistic homage to our roots and our historic diversity.

While it would have been fitting for the two sides to have reached an accommodation shy of warehouse exile, there is one aspect that has been overlooked. The 1,600-pound, 8-by-8-by 6-foot bust–atop a three-foot base–was disproportionately large for the site, private or public.

Surely a compromise can be worked out. This river-oriented mayor and this civic-investment, private-sector treasure are both proven can-do sorts. Maybe Princess Ulele could be relocated to the waterfront side of the aesthetically-challenged Blake High School. And it would be big enough to be seen from the other side.

Town Hall Campaign

Hillsborough County School Superintendent Jeff Eakins has hit the referendum hustings, as it were, to help gin up interest and a favorable vote for the half-cent sales tax hike on the November ballot. He’s hosting a bunch of town hall meeting around Hillsborough County. Good luck, Jeff. The cause is as worthy as the money is necessary, but the odds are not favorable. Not if the words tax and county are in the same sentence. Especially with the one-cent transit initiative also on the ballot.

Too bad the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation can’t help out. As in, really help out with capital improvements instead of spending multi millions on peer evaluations that sent teacher morale plummeting.

Sic(k) Transit

Here we go again. The 1-cent sales tax initiative on Nov. 6–the one that would raise some $280 million over 30 years for transportation, including seed money for light rail–faces a daunting challenge. An extra cent would give Hillsborough County the highest sales tax IN THE STATE. You don’t have to be a “No Tax for Tracks” activist to have all the anti-initiative ammo you need. Moreover, you also have the School District adding a half-cent tax for all its capital needs. The timing couldn’t be worse. It’s a perfect-storm referendumb. No way they both pass, and the double tax hit likely undermines each.

The sobering reality is this. The city of Tampa voters will support–and have supported–serious transit upgrades and know they should have happened a generation ago. Those outside the urban core have different perspectives and different priorities.

Major Florida municipalities still need the legal right to hold city-only referenda. No way should those who live elsewhere be able to veto projects that benefit urban–and, yes, surrounding–areas in terms of economic growth and corporate recruiting to the environment and quality of life. There’s also the matter of self-determination. It’s not an abstraction.

Gathering For Gillum

It was a feel-good moment for local progressives. Bernie Sanders’ Tampa rally for Andrew Gillum provided an emotional outlet for Gillum-gubernatorial supporters who know his candidacy needs help. But as previously noted in this space, let’s let 2016 serve as a gob- smacking, teachable moment as we head ultimately to November’s general election and the prospects for better than a blue wavelet.

In 2016, too many enthusiastic Bernie supporters, piqued that Hillary Clinton became their party’s presidential candidate, consequently sat out the general election. Ideals dashed, they couldn’t compromise. But compromise is not cause betrayal for the country. As if Clinton could somehow have been equated with Donald Trump as an existential threat to the United States.

That can’t happen again. There’s nothing wrong with holding out for one’s principles. But there’s plenty wrong with a Democratic temper tantrum that can wind up enabling a worst-case scenario. Whether it’s President Donald Trump or Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Art Of The Deal

So, Janet Echelman, a Bay Area native, is on board with the new location for her St. Petersburg signature aerial-banner art. For $2.8 million, of course she’s on board. No matter that aerial art looks so much better from a distance–where it doesn’t seem like a marketing banner for some weekend festival. But no home-town discount?

Walled-Off No More

The dominoes keep falling.

For too long, the Hillsborough River was a neglected, seemingly disdained, asset. Think barges and waterfront wharves, warehouses and surface parking lots. What minarets? In the 1980s NCNB agreed to bring its state headquarters here if it could have a riverfront parcel near the Kennedy Boulevard Bridge. Deal. Then came the Performing Arts Center—and the belated acknowledgment that if you are fortunate enough to be a city with a river running through it, you should feel compelled to take advantage of it. Hell, look what San Antonio did with a creek.

It wasn’t easy, and it isn’t finished. But a lot of attitudinal and developmental-priority dominoes were starting to tumble. Now there are water taxis, paddle boats and dinner cruises instead of industrial barges—an apt metaphor for forward movement. A high-profile Riverwalk connects the urban-vibe bookends of the Tampa History Center area and the multi-faceted, repurposed Heights development. It’s a multi-mayor vision being realized. And with Julian Lane Park, the west bank is becoming more than the University of Tampa and an aesthetics-challenged Blake High School.

Now another domino, a more contemporary one, has fallen along the waterfront: Channelside Bay Plaza. Originally heralded and marketed as within walking distance of the arena, aquarium and convention center, it struggled from the day it opened in 2001. Rearranging commercial deck chairs never helped. The orientation was off: Much of the waterfront was walled off.

Until now. Strategic Property Partners, the Jeff Vinik-Cascade Investment development company, is morphing CBP into Sparkman Wharf. Its charge: to undo what was ignored in 2001. While there will be office lofts and retail, the visitor-magnet centerpiece will be a recreational lawn with shade trees that will be literally open to the waterfront. We’re talking dining garden, biergarten and a stage and LED screen that will carry, yes, Lightning games.

But, no, you can’t go to the movies there anymore. Anymore than you can go back to a time when the Hillsborough River was an unappreciated, neglected natural asset—not an urban destination.