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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Buckhorn's speech looks to highlight opportunities, but Tampa faces challenges, too

25

March

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn gives his second state of the city address at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, but he isn’t giving it at City Hall or the Tampa Convention Center (the site of former Mayor Pam Iorio’s valedictory address) or even at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, the site of last year’s speech.

Instead, Buckhorn will speak inside the historic but vacant Kress building at 811 N Franklin Street.

Built in 1929, the former department store is on the National Register of Historic Places. It has been empty for decades, though that didn’t stop a party planner from spending a reported $660,000 to convert it and two adjacent buildings into a hot-ticket party space for the week of the Republican National Convention. Buckhorn said he has no big announcement about the Kress, but wants to highlight that it’s available for redevelopment.

So it’s a safe bet that energizing distinctive Tampa places and spaces will be a big theme of Buckhorn’s speech. He has plenty of examples to offer.

There’s the historic federal courthouse, which a developer is transforming into a boutique hotel with the mayor’s enthusiastic blessing. There’s also Water Works Park, where the city has worked for more than a year to bring in a riverfront restaurant run by the owner of the Columbia Restaurant. And there’s the west bank of the Hillsborough River, where Buckhorn envisions creating a walkable, trendy urban village.

However optimistic, Buckhorn also faces big challenges. Asked last week what he worries about the most, he said, “hurricanes are always top of the list, but I can’t control that so I try not to spend a lot of time focusing on it.”

That leaves the speed of the economic recovery and its drag on the city’s budget. Heading into the 2013-14 fiscal year, Buckhorn has to close a gap of $20 million to $25 million between revenues and projected expenses.

“We’re still going to have a difficult budget year this year,” he said. “So in spite of all the good things that are going on, we still lag in revenue collection.”

This will be the third budget where Buckhorn’s administration has started with a shortfall that big or bigger. (It was $27.8 million last year and $34.5 million two years ago.) He expects to close the gap this year in “half-million-dollar increments.” That could mean  delaying capital improvement projects or “sweeping” the escrow accounts of some projects that are winding down and still have money unspent.

“All the low fruit has been picked,” he said. “This year, potentially, the decisions will be a little more painful.”

Layoffs?

“Don’t know,” Buckhorn said. “I was able to not do it the first two years. I’m hopeful that I won’t have to do it this year, but I can’t say for sure now that I will be able to.”

Asked whether there will be anything about transit in the speech, he said, “there might be.”

Buckhorn’s speech is free and open to the public, though you don’t have to go downtown to hear it live. It will be broadcast on City of Tampa Television, which is Ch. 615 on Bright House Networks and Ch. 15 on the Verizon FIOS system.

Or you can watch online at tampagov.net. Scroll to the bottom of the page and click on “CTTV Live Webcast.”

[Last modified: Monday, March 25, 2013 11:36am]

    

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