Hillsborough County moves forward with plan to make USF area an "Innovation Destination"

05/02/12 Janelle Irwin
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Hillsborough County commissioners unanimously voted today to move forward with plans to create an economic opportunity district. It includes the USF area and some surrounding neighborhoods. What commissioner Victor Crist is calling an “Innovation Destination” will create a master plan to improve both low-income and middle class areas in northern Hillsborough.

The “Innovation Destination” area was determined by using data from the 2010 census to establish what areas would be best served by an economic push. Crist said the research targeted neighborhoods where crime and poverty are prevalent.

“That is where we have, basically, third world living conditions.”

Crist’s plan aims to boost economic opportunities in these areas, but he said:

“There is no way we are going to be able to attract something new and exciting and expect it to stay if it has to survive in third world conditions.”

The targeted area also includes some middle class neighborhoods like Temple Terrace and parts of New Tampa. Crist calls those more economically stable areas “critical bleed” because they suffer negative setbacks due to their impoverished bordering neighborhoods. He commended other commissioners and some organizations for their work in improving these areas, but said more needs to be done.

“This is not an overlay plan that will disrupt anything that any of you were doing. What this is, is it’s taking all of your good work and the good work of all of these other organizations and more and weaving it into a blanket. Weaving it into a blanket of holistic approach that will end the ebb and flow of the tide that keeps erasing all of the good work that has been done previously.”

A map depicted areas with high unemployment and crime rates in yellow and middle class neighborhoods in red. So even though the targeted zone includes some more affluent areas, they are only on the outskirts of the borders. That’s because as you get further away from the problematic yellow, the red starts to increase. Commissioner Kevin Beckner wasn’t surprised by that finding.

“When we look at poverty and we look at crime, certainly in lower income areas there should be now surprise that there’s lower amounts of crime.”

Within the “Innovation Destination” area, Crist identified several areas where improvements could be made – from the dog track off of Interstate 275 that no longer has races to near vacant shopping centers all over the area.

“So, there is tremendous opportunity on 75 and the potential if we were to consider doing small little TIF districts in that area to help sustain and/or grow the infrastructure within the size of this targeted area.”

But for the plan to come to fruition, the county will need help from the city of Tampa. Tampa City Council member Lisa Montelione said that won’t be a problem.

“The city and the county not only are willing to work together, but have to work together and are already working together to move this forward and our area needs this.”

With USF Tampa at the core of this proposed project, commissioner Mark Sharpe called attention to the potential for high-tech jobs in the area that hasn’t been fully tapped into. It’s one of the reasons he said he wholeheartedly supports the measure.

“This is the most important thing that I think that we’ve done collectively – one of the most important things.”

The Innovation Destination plan received the commission’s full support. It also gave commissioner Sandra Murman hope that it would be the start of future economic development projects in other parts of the county that could use it.

“I’m hoping that through going through your process that you will create that mindset that we will look at our county differently – that we will do more master planning so that we can attract.”

County staff now have 45-days to bring a plan of action back to the commission for further consideration. The plan will include input from the Hillsborough County Planning Commission, the Tampa/Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation, the cities of Tampa and Temple Terrace and the USF innovation alliance. A stakeholder meeting about the project will be held on Friday.

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