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.

Rays Reality

While we ponder the formidable variables involved in an Ybor stadium for the Rays, the ultimate reality hasn’t changed.

When you have a bay-dividing region that is absent serious mass transit, has few corporate headquarters, features roof-requiring weather, has plenty of summer diversions besides baseball and is home to lots of people with other baseball allegiances, you have quite the challenge. If your stadium location and design aren’t spot on, you have no chance of preventing a franchise relocation to another market. MLB knows it. The Rays know it. Montreal knows it. Hell, Ray Naimoli knows it.

An urban core, synergy-exuding Tampa-Ybor stadium just makes sense. Tampa is the hub of the 18th largest metro market in the U.S. The downtown/ Water Street Tampa/Ybor City revitalization has more in store.

The facility will have to be built for more than serious baseball fans, because there aren’t enough. We’re talking millennials and families. Those who need interactive social media enclaves and kiss cams and those who need interactive entertainment for kids. Baseball in a coolly-designed, next-generation stadium is the requisite vehicle.

The facility will also have to be ready for repurposing when baseball isn’t on the calendar. It has to be a community—in the broadest sense—destination. From kitchens that offer culinary classes and a fitness center to yoga classes and Wi-Fi work spaces.

To the Rays’ credit, their plans are open to all of the above.

What they don’t include in the $892 million project, however, is how it will all be paid for. We don’t know how much—beyond $150 million—the Rays will actually ante up. We don’t know all the details about public money sources—from resort taxes to tax increment financing to a federal economic opportunity zone. And most importantly, we don’t know how the business community will do at crunch time. That includes Pinellas County—most notably Tech Data and Jabil. It also means Mosaic, WellCare and Bloomin’ Brands. That means serious season-ticket commitments and serious money for naming rights.

It would also be beyond helpful if the streetcar becomes more transit than amenity and if Jeff Vinik decides to buy in.

Some metro areas, such as New York and Los Angeles can—and have—lost professional sports franchises. They didn’t miss a beat. Tampa Bay is not New York or Los Angeles.

Back To School: 2018

Remember when “back to school” references were mainly about new teachers, new challenges, new classmates, old friends and back-to-school-supplies sales?

Now add this: The countdown to the new school year also includes active shooter training. It involves school resource officers, teachers and faculty members. And it also involves a county SWAT team, bomb squad and police dogs.

“Back to school”: the new normal.

Sign Of Change?

It was the student-led, anti-gun violence “March for our Lives” gathering in St. Petersburg. It was only a few hundred people, and it was only a few dozen signs. But one of those signs spoke volumes for what it will take politically to get beyond the dysfunction, divisiveness and sheer anger we are now living.

“We are diverse. We are truthful. We are compassionate. We are informed. We vote.”

If only that one sign were to truly resonate. Because that must be the realistic, idealistic and pragmatic message going forward for all those desperate to make a difference as they fear where this country is going under this Administration.

In short, remember that you still represent the majority in this country: from demographics to values. But that, as we lamentably saw in 2016, is not nearly enough, even though volume and vitriol don’t define majority. And it’s not nearly enough if caring, diverse people are not informed enough on the issues and not motivated enough to vote for America’s self-interest.

And that includes Democratic millennial socialists and Bernie die-hards who can’t muster enthusiasm for “establishment” Democratic candidates, including the ultimate, non-socialist Democrat at the top of the ballot in a presidential year. It also includes minorities, even if the presidential ticket is all white.

The focus has to be more than post-Pelosi and encouraging electoral signs from Queens to Little Havana. The focus must also prioritize Trump-Pence and all its dire implications. How can the possibility of that reprise not rally everyone who truly cares about America and truly fears its current caretakers?

The 2018 mid-terms are about political leverage, human values and societal priorities. The 2020 presidential election will be all of that plus where America fits in the world, what’s really in our national-security and economic self-interest and who we still are as a people.

Being angry is understandable and appropriate. In-your-face confrontation with the usual sell-out suspects shows attitude and can be a visceral rush. But ultimately this is about group therapy. This is about being collectively caring, informed and motivated to vote for all the right, not just righteous, reasons. It’s also about having the guts to be undaunted by vile and volume.

And this is about Making America Grateful that enough of its citizens are moving to reclaim the moral and ethical high ground of the Oval Office and remove a cult figure lionized by societal haters and political harlots.