Republished from Spectrum Bay News 9

By Mitch Perry

Click here for original source

The Tampa City Council unanimously approved a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on Thursday that authorizes them to spend up to $666,000 to help in the creation of an innovation district in the North Tampa area surrounding USF and Busch Gardens.

  • The district was created in 2011
  • It includes USF and Moffitt Cancer Center
  • One councilmember says that the North Tampa area has been neglected for “decades”

The move comes a day after the Hillsborough County Commission approved an agreement with a similar commitment of funding. Combined with another $666,000 from the community partners who make up what is now known as the Tampa Innovation Partnership. The organizers of this ambitious project now have $2 million to work with in the area bounded by Busch Boulevard to the south, Bearss Avenue to the north, and Interstates 75 and 275 to the east and west, respectively.

The Tampa Innovation Partnership is not new. It started as the Tampa Innovation Alliance way back in 2011, and had a formal unveiling in January of 2015. So why the long buildup period?

According to executive director Mark Sharpe, creating business districts can take as long as a decade to fully form. He takes that stance based on conversations he’s had locally with business leaders like Jeff Vinik and Ron Rotella (who helped form the Westshore Alliance) as well as traveling to innovation districts around the country.

Left unsaid by Sharpe was that there has been a change in City Hall this year, with Jane Castor succeeding Bob Buckhorn as mayor. 

“Some people have asked me, why has this taken five years?” asked Councilman Bill Carlson about the long gestating period. “The simple reason…is that there was no priority in the city outside of downtown.”

Lisa Montelione, the public manager for the Corporation to Develop Communities of Tampa (CDC), and a former councilmember who represented the area, made a similar remark during the public comment portion of the hearing.

“It’s an area that has struggled for attention for many, many years,” she said. “And I’m glad to see with the mayor’s support that an area of North Tampa is finally getting the attention it deserves.”

Among the developments already in production in district include an urban village-style life sciences and technology research park called Uptown, being built on the site of the former University Mall on Fowler Avenue. Sharpe says that there’s already $1.5 billion in development in the district right now, and he expects that to grow to $2-3 billion “very quickly.”

The MOU is between the city of Tampa, Hillsborough County, the USF Board of Trustees, the University Area Community Development Corporation, University Community Hospital and the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center.

“What we’re trying to do now is create a framework for all of those players, all of those stakeholders, moving together, both physically, moving from where we have this big tech cluster, and medical cluster and academic cluster, and moving that now to out of their gates, out of their enclaves, and into our neighborhoods,” said Chris Bowen, the chairman of the Tampa Innovation Partnership.  

Councilmembers waxed enthusiastic about the proposal, with none more effusive in his praise than Council Chair Luis Viera, who said that the area has not received sufficient attention over the decades by Tampa’s leaders.

“We talk about that rising tide that lifts all boats,” said Viera, who currently represents the area on the council. “In the city of Tampa that rising tide has not lifted. In fact, that boat has been sinking little by little by little.”

But the good vibes were briefly interrupted when Councilman Orlando Gudes, who represents the portion of Tampa just south of the boundaries of the district, complained that the economically challenged of Sulphur Springs deserved some economic attention as well.

“Why is that not included?” he demanded to know.

That led to a discussion where members of the Innovation Partnership and the council agreed that they did want to do something for Sulphur Springs, and agreed to hold a separate workshop on what they could do to boost the area early in 2020.