Mayor Buckhorn announces plan to keep police chief one more year during State of the City address
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03/25/14 Janelle Irwin
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Tags: Bob Buckhorn, Jane Castor, Tampa, North Boulevard Homes, transit, Transportation, economic development, Rays

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Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn gave his annual State of the City address at the Armature Works building that used to be a Trolley Barn.


photo by Janelle Irwin


Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn announced during his State of the City address Tuesday that police Chief Jane Castor will stay on for at least one more year after retiring in May. That means she’ll stay in “the drop” which some consider double dipping - collecting a paycheck and pension. Buckhorn said he wants to keep Chief Castor on board because crime has dropped 69% in the city.

“You know what that means? That means there’s over 150,000 less victims. That’s us. The men and women of the Tampa Police Department, the men and women of Tampa Fire Rescue, they get up everyday to a job that we can’t do for ourselves and we owe them a debt of gratitude.”

Piggybacking on the goal of further stamping out crime, Buckhorn talked about programs that are improving some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. That includes a project in Sulphur Springs that is demolishing run-down homes and rebuilding them. Speaking from the historic Armature Works building along the Hillsborough River with the downtown skyline as a backdrop, Buckhorn said he’s also continuing his push to redevelop North Boulevard Homes into mixed-use retail and residential space.

“We’ve created a master plan that will recreate the environment in North Boulevard Homes. Once again, a violent, dangerous, drug-filled, gang-infested neighborhood. Those young people in North Boulevard Homes, little girls like Legacy, deserve a better life. They shouldn’t have to walk through shell casings to get to a playground. They shouldn’t be subjected to the gun violence that takes place out there. They need a better opportunity.”

Buckhorn didn’t say where the people who currently live in the subsidized housing project will go, but in previous interviews has suggested some may qualify to live in the Encore development along Central Avenue on the edge of downtown. That development has already opened one building, the Ella named after Ella Fitzgerald. Buckhorn said the entire area, and adjacent park, are a throw back to the area’s rich historical and cultural significance.

“Perry Harvey Park, now a relatively passive park with little activity, will soon be able to accommodate the thousands of residents who call Encore home. We must give those residents an active park that they can enjoy, a park that reflects the history of Central Avenue and that pays homage to the many historic contributions to generations of African-Americans. Ladies and Gentlemen, I’m sorry, a concrete skate bowl pales in comparison to the history of our African-American community at Central Avenue. We’re going to get that park done.”

Buckhorn and the city face an uphill battle with plans to rebuild that park because a group of skaters managed to obtain historical designation for the skate park they call the Bro Bowl. One of several talking points during Buckhorn’s address was expanding transit options was Buckhorn said Tampa needs to increase mobility to attract young professionals to the city.

“For too long, the only option we’ve ever given ourselves is to build more roads, widen them and start over. That’s not an investment. I’m talking about mobility options and, yes, I’m talking about rail that connects us to St. Pete and Pinellas County.”

Buckhorn added the city needs to do everything it can to help an initiative across the bay called Greenlight Pinellas succeed. It’s a one-penny sales tax referendum that would fund things like increased bus service and rail that could eventually connect to Tampa via the Howard Frankland Bridge. Buckhorn said he wants a similar effort in Hillborough.

“I would prefer sooner, but we’ve got to get it done at a minimum by Fall of ’16 and we need your help.”

In a subtle dig to rail naysayers who helped kill a 2010 ballot initiative in Hillsborough County, Buckhorn reminded the residents and community leaders in the packed former trolley depot that the expense of multi-modal transportation is well-worth it.

“No means of transportation pays for itself. I don’t think the stage coach paid for itself. Don’t let anybody kid you and say fair box revenue has to make sense because transportation never pays for itself.”

During the transit spiel in his 45-minute speech, Buckhorn mentioned St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman, but slipped and called him Tampa’s mayor. That led to an unscripted flap about the quarrel between cities over the Tampa Bay Rays.

“He’s not going to the mayor of Tampa. That ain’t happening! I wouldn’t mind his baseball team…”

Talk of building a baseball stadium in Tampa has included claims by Buckhorn that money freed up when payments on the Convention Center end this year could be used to fund a portion of the cost. The Rays have a contract to play in St. Pete until 2027 and are not allowed to discuss stadium sites in Tampa. Buckhorn also focused on developing land along the Hillsborough River saying gone are the days of building waterfront parking garages. He blasted state and federal elected officials for political bickering that has kept some community-based projects from coming to fruition.

“While Washington and Tallahassee are in perpetual gridlock, playing games instead of getting the job done, increasingly it’s up to mayors and community leaders to solve today’s problems – generating new economic opportunities, solving the housing crisis, reducing crime, protecting the public, investing in our transportation options. In cities like Charlotte and Austin and Louisville and Denver, they have embraced the concept of becoming innovators, problem solvers. We need to push ourselves. We need to be those innovators.”

Buckhorn also touted one of his signature accomplishments, the expansion and eventual completion of Riverwalk.

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