Tampa downtown would be enhanced by light rail lines says Partnership listen04/15/09 Seán Kinane
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A light rail system centered in downtown Tampa that branches out to a regional and statewide transit network is a way to attract new business to the area. That was the opinion of several speakers at this morning’s Downtown Development Forum sponsored by the Tampa Downtown Partnership.
Earlier this month the Hillsborough County Commission took a first step toward placing a referendum on the 2010 ballot that would fund mass transit with a one cent sales tax increase. Mark Sharpe is one of the most vocal Commissioners about the need for transportation options.
“And I’m convinced that if we’re going to turn our economy around, and we’re going to bring people to this region, and we’re going to excite our community, and excite the business community, we’ve got to have a world-class transportation system. This opportunity in 2010, which is a referendum for rail, and enhanced bus system, enhanced roads and intersections, should -- and could if done smartly -- really stimulate a lot of economic activity in our region.”
Sharpe says that one reason the technology company Scripps Research Institute decided to open a facility in Palm Beach County instead of Tampa Bay is because there is no mass transit system in Tampa. Sharpe says that officials from other cities -- like Denver and Charlotte – told the Commission that their investments in transit have been repaid many times over.
“And what we saw was that transit-oriented development worked. And the investment, Charlotte was indicating that for every one dollar in transit-oriented development, they were getting six dollars in return.”
Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio is one of the strongest advocates for the proposed Hillsborough light rail network that would begin with lines from downtown Tampa to both USF and the Tampa International Airport, with eventual links to Pasco and Pinellas Counties. She gave credit to the Hillsborough County Commission, and especially to Commissioners Mark Sharpe and Ken Hagan, for their work on transit.
“You know today is the day where there are tea parties out there about taxes. And it’s difficult for elected officials in public office to say, ‘I’m willing to put a one cent sales tax on the ballot.’ And that’s tough for a lot of them to do. So the fact that we apparently have a majority of the County Commission that’s willing to do that – that’s really a lot of political courage. And I really want the County Commission to get a lot of credit for moving this issue forward because they deserve that credit. This issue is critical to our future as a region.”
But just passing the sales tax referendum next year to fund transportation options is not enough, according to Iorio.
“We can vote for light rail all day long but if we don’t work to implement it in a sophisticated land-use way, we won’t get there. We won’t get there as a community.”
Developing high-density infill projects near transit hubs could stimulate the economy and raise property values, according to Iorio.
Kathy Castor, a Democratic member of Congress who represents parts of Hillsborough, Pinellas, and Manatee counties says that federal legislation might help the Tampa Bay area get funding to plan for transit.
In February, the Hillsborough County Commission created an Economic Development Task Force, which will report next month on how to bring new jobs to the county. The chair of the Task Force is Bob Abberger with Trammell Crow, who suggests that incentives for companies, deregulation, and transit projects could help attract business.
“We as a community will not be recognized as the place to be unless we have a transportation solution. Not a fix – it’s not a fix that we can do next year or three years from now – but if we’re known as a community that has a solution and has a plan, then we’ll be recognized as foreword looking. And we need to re-think our regulatory environment so that we are committed to doing it right. You can both streamline and strengthen. This isn’t about nuking wetlands and eliminating departments. It is about streamlining; it is about elimination of duplication.”
Melinda Chavez, with the Tampa Bay Business Committee for the Arts pointed out that downtown development would not reach its potential unless there is investment in arts and culture.
“Arts and culture attract a lot of people and they’re good for business and they’re a good investment.”
“Over the last several years, downtown Tampa has become significantly less expensive.” That’s according to Larry Richey with Cushman & Wakefield of Florida. He says that commercial office space costs less in downtown than in Hillsborough County or Tampa Bay as a whole. It’s also less expensive than other major cities in Florida such as Miami and Orlando, which leads Richey to believe that an influx of occupants will come to downtown Tampa in the near future.
“And our experience over history tells us that tenants and space users – that they will find the bargains, especially in a down market. This actually might play to our favor in downtown Tampa.”