Tampa Bay TidBits

* Signs of the new-normal times we live in:

^ Pinellas County has an administrative position called  “violence prevention specialist.”

^Earlier this month First Baptist Church of College Hill held a two-day “Church Intruder Training workshop.

* The Tampa Bay area, with Tampa as its hub, has been, as we know all too well, an unconscionable outlier when it comes to mass transit. Remember T-BART (Tampa Bay Area Rapid Transit) from the 1980s? It was a San Francisco/Oakland-esque rail proposal that would have connected Hillsborough and Pinellas counties via the Howard Frankland Bridge. We also had Orlando-to-Tampa, high-speed rail derailed by Gov. Rick Scott. As a result, we have done more sprawl, poured more asphalt and voted down more than our share of transit proposals.

Then one, manifestly imperfect, referendum (1-cent sales) tax finally passed last month, because it was well organized, well financed and well received outside the city. It was for 30 years and would raise nearly $16 billion. The voters spoke. Our retrograde transportation past would start receding. Tampa Bay would no longer be notorious for its counterproductive, 21st-century-defying, stupid history on transit. A history that transcended generations and defied common sense and blatant self-interest. Finally, there was a sense of progress and maybe a last-gasp chance to “re-imagine our transportation future,” to quote Tampa City Councilman Harry Cohen, who is also vice chair of the Hillsborough County MPO.

What could go wrong now? Well, this is still Hillsborough County, voter epiphany notwithstanding. So a county commissioner, Stacy White, has filed a lawsuit against the transportation tax. It’s either pragmatism at play so possible legal issues can be sorted out now. Or it’s the politics of spite.

* Pasco did not join its county counterparts on the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council’s coalition dedicated to addressing climate change and sea level rise. The reason: Pasco’s representative, Commissioner Jack Mariano, doesn’t believe in “climate change.” Maybe we shouldn’t be shocked given the high-profile of other Republican climate-change cynics such as the president of this country and the senator-elect of this state. But we should be angry and alarmed when another politician of this climate-vulnerable state doubles down on “Flori-duh.”

Wise Words

This was passed along recently in a yoga class. It helps put our daily regimens and priorities into a context of opportunity and positivity. In effect, don’t wake up each day with a “What-do-I-HAVE-to-do-today?” attitude. Try making that: “What do I GET to do today?”

There’s Riverwalk There

Another day, another accolade. Sometimes it seems like that as City Hall press releases remind us of Tampa niches that have been singled out for praiseworthy citation by various  organizations or online entities. It’s all good, some more substantial than others. Here’s one that notably resonates. The American Planning Association naming Tampa’s Riverwalk as the winner of its “People’s Choice” award. It was part of the APA’s “Great Places in America” contest.

It’s a vivid reminder–especially to those of us whose Tampa tenure dates back multiple decades–that we have lived through a downtown transformation. Where once there was a neglected, industrial river dotted with waterfront warehouses and surface parking lots, there is now a 3-mile-long civic space that is the gateway to museums, parks, hotels and night life, aesthetically pleasing and a tourist draw. Where once there were barges, there are now water taxis. In short, and in a shout out to Gertrude Stein, there is now “there” there in Tampa. And we’re not the only ones noticing.

Tampa Bay Tidbits

* First, the good news. The developers of Riverwalk Place have formally opened a sales center for their 50-plus-story, residential tower, which will be the tallest building on Florida’s west coast. Prospective buyers have already put down deposits on condos valued at nearly $70 million. The even-better-news part: The vacant lot and erstwhile construction-staging site at Ashley Drive and Whiting Street was once designated for the Trump Tower Tampa. Talk about dodged-bullet real estate scenarios. The only possible downside: The sleek, sail-shaped tower looks more Dubai than downtown Tampa.

* So, the Tampa-Orlando rail line received exactly one proposal, the one from Brightline, the company that had proposed the intercity route in the first place. But it has Gov. Rick Scott’s blessing–in the context of I-4 Corridor votes and a non-Obama presidency. Recall that back in 2011 Scott turned down more than $2 billion in federal funding for Orlando-to-Tampa high speed rail. It was Barack Obama-tainted money and could put the state “on the hook” for cost overruns and less-than-expected ridership numbers. Easily forgotten in Tallahassee: There was a queue of international developers who wanted in on what was to be, in effect, America’s jump start to a national high speed rail line. Miami to Atlanta would be the first leg. And all the companies would have to sign off on liability for overruns and under-performance in their bids. But the bids never came, because the process was summarily derailed by Florida’s new Tea Partying governor.

* Speaking of the Brightline proposal: If it gets green-lighted by the Florida DOT, look for a rail terminal to play a catalytic role in the viability of a Rays stadium on the southern edge of Ybor City.

* Regardless of the details, and they matter, it still seems weirdly ironic that Ed Turanchik is making news over his “flip” on the pragmatic transportation-tax referendum that passed. He did not support it before the vote, which arched some pro-transit brows. But everybody moves on. Most politicians, regardless of past position, would back a fait accompli and make the best of it with expected, inclusive spin. But Turanchik is no ordinary pol. He’s long been a transportation visionary–from trains to ferries–in a region that has long ignored reality and venerated MESS transit. Now the avatar of mass transit is being called out for a political pivot that looks to many like a classic candidate two-step. Call it a weird, ironic, unforced error.

* It’s not like she won a Nobel Prize. But it’s not as if she’s appearing on “Dancing With The Stars.” Former Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, 59, was recently in the national media limelight for being named by People magazine as one of the “25 Women Changing the World.” That’s a big deal, and it recognizes her big, impactful role as CEO/president of Tampa-headquartered Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. More than 2 million kids have been served by BBBSA across the country in the last decade. “It’s very emotional for me to hear them talk about their relationships,” says Iorio. “The ‘littles’ are always very open and share with me the positive impact of their mentor. They do better in school, have higher aspirations and greater self-esteem.”

Such national media attention also, inevitably, reminds political junkies of what else she could do–and has done–with that personable, quick-study, people-first priority. Congratulations, Pam. And we’re still awaiting the next chapter.

* Political signs: Yes, there are laws, mercifully, that don’t allow political signage to remain on front lawns in perpetuity. But here are the best reasons to take them down IMMEDIATELY. If your candidates (seemingly) won–and, yes, that includes certain DeSantis/Scott/Toledo supporters who are neighbors–don’t look like you want to rub it in. Your high-visibility, political allegiance is off-putting enough. And if your candidates (apparently) lost, don’t add to the frustration, depression and embarrassment with an ongoing reminder of what should have been.

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.