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Predictions: 20 things to watch for in Tampa Bay in 2012

Bottom line, we're heading into an improving but painfully slow year. Still, regional change is nonstop. Look for these highlights in the new year:

20. The year's "big event" will be the late August hosting of the Republican National Convention, complete with the arrival of the Occupy movement. The convention's got great upside potential for the regional economy and its image. But no small-town fumbles, please.

19. After a halting start in late 2011, the "Tampa Bay Shines" branding campaign launches with a positive marketing spin on the region. Short term, Shines wants to spruce up our image for the Republican convention in August. Longer term, the campaign is meant to boost our regional spirit. Feeling happier yet?

18. Tampa Bay and Florida enter the new year with jobless rates at or just over 10 percent. By the end of 2012, both the state and regional rate will fall into the single digits — though not dramatically.

17. Any sparking of the economy may renew street buzz over certain large Tampa Bay companies — think Jabil Circuit, Tech Data Corp. or perhaps WellCare — that could become takeover targets by bigger, cash-rich corporations.

16. Our long-crippled housing market will at least be walking with crutches in 2012. But it will still struggle to find a solid price base as the year unfolds. Eternally optimistic real estate folks call this a "mini recovery."

15. University of South Florida president Judy Genshaft, praised locally for not caving to political demands to make Lakeland's USF Polytechnic an independent university, faces new pressure from state legislators displeased with her resistance to their whims.

14. Downtown Tampa, already showing signs of life after too many barren years, gains momentum. Look for the opening of USF's Center for Advanced Medical Learning & Simulation facility, the likely sale of Channelside's retail center to more motivated owners, the blossoming of the hefty Encore housing/commercial development on downtown's northeast edge, and a groundswell of residential activity.

13. After some lean years, Florida and Tampa Bay start to see renewed signs of population growth as people (a bit more able to sell their Northern homes) are drawn to states and metro areas more affordable than California and New York with lower taxes and less regulation.

12. Florida Gov. Rick Scott rides the slow comeback of the state economy and takes credit for Florida's jobless rate dropping below 10 percent, into the symbolic single digits. That's down more than 2 percentage points since he took office in January 2011.

11. Tampa International Airport not only gains prominence as a regional tourism "gateway" to the Gulf Coast beaches but becomes a bigger retail presence with more stores and restaurants.

10. To boost regional support for entrepreneurs, Tampa Bay groups like Gazelle Lab, Tampa Bay Wave and the Tampa Bay Technology Forum start to form coalitions. Gazelle will expand to Orlando.

9. Brazil's booming economy becomes the year's Big Kahuna in Florida tourism and foreign spending. Why? Spending by Brazilian visitors to Florida totaled $1.4 billion, up 78 percent from a year earlier. That puts Brazil at No. 1 for spending from overseas countries in 2010, a whopping 55 percent more than No. 2 United Kingdom.

8. Think Bank of America's decision to end its $5 monthly debit card fee was a consumer victory? Hardly. Banks will slip in more checking fees, higher minimum balances and more service requirements whether consumers like it or not. Just do your homework before leaping to a cheaper credit union.

7. The city of St. Petersburg faces a quandary as its three finalists' unorthodox designs for a new pier are debated up to the Feb. 20 decision day by the City Council. Whatever design wins, why does it feel like the city will blow by its supposed $50 million price cap in the blink of an eye?

6. Relations with BP will grow more tense, despite the oil company's massive "feel good" subsidizing of tourism advertising on the Gulf Coast after the April 20, 2010, oil spill. Federal criminal prosecution of BP employees will put the company more on the defensive. And Florida must start easing off its addiction to BP's billions as the company nears the end of its open-wallet days.

5. Despite growing public outrage against the hundreds of millions of dollars charged ratepayers for questionable nuclear power projects, Progress Energy easily wins approval from the state regulator, the Florida Public Service Commission, to charge customers to help fix its damaged and aged Crystal River nuclear power plant and to move forward on a proposed nuclear power plant in Levy County.

4. Maligned and mothballed BayWalk, bought by developer Bill Edwards in 2011, will be tested for signs of life. How will Edwards reintroduce what was St. Pete's retail mainstay now that the downtown hub has shifted to Beach Drive? Look for more "entertainment" options, for starters.

3. Despite opposition, Vegas-style casinos touted as "destination resorts" will lobby Tallahassee successfully enough to win a foothold in the Miami/Miami Beach area. Tampa's Seminole Hard Rock Casino and the area's lesser gambling interests will consider tough options.

2. The Tampa Bay Times, as the St. Petersburg Times is now known, spends the new year crafting a new regional brand more descriptive of its marketplace and readership. It remains Florida's largest newspaper.

1. Urged on by Gov. Rick Scott and legislative leaders, the state-run insurer of last resort Citizens Property Insurance will go on a tear. Look for sharply rising insurance rates for many, while other Florida homeowners get dropped back into the murky market of private insurers.

Happy new year.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at trigaux@tampabay.com.

Predictions: 20 things to watch for in Tampa Bay in 2012 12/31/11 [Last modified: Saturday, December 31, 2011 3:31am]
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