Monday, February 19, 2018
Business

One radical vision for a new downtown Tampa

TAMPA — Imagine downtown Tampa of the future through Tom Hall's eyes.

A mega office/retail/entertainment/residential complex — a modest version of Miami's Brickell CityCentre — plopped where a flour mill now sits in the Channel District.

A medical technology center showcasing research nationwide. A monorail unifying Tampa and St. Petersburg. Pedestrians using a network of elevated, air-conditioned moving sidewalks a la Hong Kong or hopping into Google smart cars.

Up to a dozen parks, each highlighted by a distinctive sculpture, with a long-envisioned, 100-foot Picasso sculpture as the piece de resistance.

"Tampa could be known as the city of sculptures," said Hall, who shared his vision of downtown Tampa — ideas that he said would make Tampa a "cool city" — in a luncheon speech Wednesday organized by the Florida Venture Forum. "Let's build the most exciting downtown we can."

And forget about baseball.

Hall, 68, chairman of Tampa public relations firm Tucker/Hall, is no stranger to dreaming big about downtown Tampa — and getting some results. Years ago, he led the effort to build the Florida Aquarium and, through the fledgling Tampa Downtown Partnership, helped bring what's now the Tampa Bay Times Forum and a new cruise terminal to downtown.

He acknowledges his latest suggestions are a bit more expensive.

How do you pay for it all?

For one, Hall suggests, save a couple of hundred million by scrapping the notion of building a baseball stadium for the Rays in downtown Tampa. With only 700 acres, downtown has neither enough room nor the ability to handle the traffic from a new stadium, he says.

Plus, building a ballpark to drive an economy is outdated thinking, Hall says.

"I'm not against baseball; I'm against bad planning," he said.

Rather, he says, use a new monorail to move tourists to St. Petersburg and vice versa.

The advertising executive also suggests being creative in leveraging public/private partnerships. Perhaps Tampa could market itself to Google to become the East Coast test center for using driverless smart cars to shuttle people around downtown. Anything that gets more automobiles off the road is positive, he says.

One other big pot of potential funding, he says, comes when the city pays off its debt on the Tampa Convention Center in 2015. After that, the city expects to have about $12.5 million a year available for downtown improvements. Based on a 20-year bond, that means Tampa could put about $100 million toward a major project or two.

Some city officials have suggested that the money could go toward a new ballpark.

But council member Yvonne Yolie Capin, who attended Wednesday's luncheon at the City Club, welcomed other ideas. Like Hall's.

She has called for a council workshop in February to discuss various ways the city could spend the post-convention-center funds.

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