Business people expect the next mayor of Tampa to shake up city workers in the building department and persuade corporate titans to bring new jobs and investment to town.
The region's most powerful local political figure also must run a tight ship financially. Leading the charge for quality-of-life enhancements that attract bright young professionals to Tampa and keep them here is also important, they say.
That the race includes five candidates with substantial experience in local government and the private sector gives Tampa business leaders some comfort. But many, such as Sykes Enterprises chief executive Chuck Sykes, say old strategies like relying on migration to fuel the city's economic growth won't work now.
"We're going to have to make our own future instead of reacting to things," says Sykes, chairman of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce. "It's going to take a lot of guts."
As a global call center operator headquartered in Tampa, Sykes Enterprises doesn't deal with City Hall on a regular basis. But Sykes says the most frequent complaint he hears from small businesses is the time and aggravation it takes to get building approvals.
"It's how many people you have to deal with," says Sykes. "You may have a guy that's by-the-book or one that cuts you some slack."
Tampa needs to be more creative in applying development rules, says Deanne Roberts of the public relations and advertising firm ChappellRoberts. Officials could let several businesses combine parking and stormwater retention areas instead of requiring each to build its own.
The Tampa Chamber of Commerce and Tampa Bay Partnership pushed hard for a 1-cent tax in Hillsborough County for a light rail system and other transit improvements. The referendum won in Tampa but lost decisively countywide.
Business leaders will expect the new mayor to help craft a new plan. All five candidates — City Council Chairman Thomas Scott, former Mayor Dick Greco, former City Council member Bob Buckhorn and former County Commissioners Rose Ferlita and Ed Turanchik — voiced support for light rail at a forum last week.
But none offered a different approach, says Tampa lawyer Ron Weaver. Should proponents try for a half-cent or put the tax on the ballot for Tampa voters, he asks.
"The business community believes (light rail) is a signal that Tampa will be the place to come to, and the city is prepared to put its money where its mouth is," says Weaver, a Greco supporter.
A local light rail system connected to a Tampa-Orlando high-speed train would help make the region a "quality place" that attracts and grows high-tech jobs, says Sykes.
The mayor is a key player in recruiting companies to relocate. But it's important to focus on industries the state has targeted with incentive money — such as life sciences — instead of chasing companies willy-nilly, says Roberts, who worked on Turanchik's campaign. "When we have good prospects, then we need the full attention of the mayor," she says.
Running for an unprecedented fifth term as mayor, Greco touts his long experience in the city's top job. Some young professionals don't see his years in City Hall or age — 77 — as a plus.
"I don't think age is the number one issue, but the ideas behind it," says Adam Fitz, 37, an architect who lives in Tampa Heights and supports Turanchik. "We know what we got from the past."
With so many longtime politicians in the field, business people find themselves with split allegiances. Sykes gave Ferlita a $500 contribution in December, then wrote $500 checks Friday to Greco, Buckhorn and Turanchik.
Steve Huettel can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8128.