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Joe Henderson: Fanciful ideas merit consideration when they’re from Tom Hall

By Joe Henderson, Times Staff Writer
Public relations guru Tom Hall has a lot of ideas for Tampa's future, including extensive use of LED lights to create an illuminated artists palate. Some lighting already is in place along Hillsborough River bridges,. [CHERI DIEZ | Times (2012)]

Tom Hall has traveled the world and developed a sense of what works, what doesnít, and what is to come.

Those experiences can send his mind into overdrive, thinking about ways to transform this city. It leads him to believe in things he doesnít yet see.

Hall is the chairman of the Tucker/Hall marketing and consulting firm in Tampa so, yes, he has a vested interest in his ideas. Whatís good for Tampa is good for Tom Hall, but also for the rest of us.

He recently shared his newest ideas for positive change in this place we live, starting with Tampaís version of New Yorkís Central Park.

"Parks are magic," he said.

No argument there. There is no such thing as too many parks or too much green space to offset an expanse of steel and concrete. He would call it Channel Park and build it on the 20 acres or so currently occupied by the Con Agra flour mill near Channelside Drive.

The next idea is so simple, but equally transformative. He believes in changing the look of downtown Tampa through a major artistic LED lighting plan. He said it would be unique, and cost-effective.

"This would not be just lighting up for a festival," he said. "It would be year-round. We donít want it to look like Las Vegas. We would want it to look like an artistís palate."

You know, I never thought of lighting on that scale to change the look and feel of downtown, but itís worth talking about. Residents could be drawn to downtown to stroll and enjoy the view, and visitors might head home thinking they just left a special place.

Hall believes in art, and would try to attract an international Cuban art festival to our soil. He said there is no place outside of Havana that currently holds such a celebration.

"Itís part of our heritage, a critical part of our history," he said.

But the key that makes it all work is a solution to our transportation needs, and he has definite strong ideas about that. The last, biggest, grandest idea is about, say it quietly:

Mass transit.

We will pause momentarily so anti-transit folks can mobilize their "Tell us what it is so we can be against it" placards and scream that it costs too much before they even see an estimate.

Hallís idea is a monorail and not a fixed ground rail system, which is the second-most quoted dismissal after the "T" word ó tax ó by opponents. He has talked about this before, and it has some advantages.

Monorails generally are cheaper to build and maintain than a standard rail line. It also would be helpful to have an above-ground transportation in case, oh, a hurricane hits and the roads flood.

It would get cars off the road, which must be Priority No. 1 for the cityís future transportation plans.

Opponents will sneer that itís just another dreamer scheme, but they are much quieter about the massive Tampa Bay Next project the Florida Department of Roads ó er, I mean Transportation ó has pushed for Hillsborough County.

Howís that working out?

"The $6 billion the Florida Department of Transportation wants to spend on roads would pay for 158 miles of monorails," Hall said. "We need to stop doing things that attract cars."

Opposition to mass transit is almost ingrained in our countyís DNA. Anti-tax folks reflexively scream that a modern system would cost too much, but they are less vociferous about road-building, ground-paving exercises like FDOT prefers.

Roads arenít free, folks. Maybe thatís why you pay a toll to drive on so many of them. Most of them are outdated before the concrete is dry.

Why not seriously study monorails and any other viable option? Thatís really what Hall and many others like him are saying.

Itís time to listen.