TAMPA — Hillsborough County's access to air and seaports, in addition to its deep Cuban roots, led the County Commission on Wednesday to vote in favor of building a Cuban Consulate here.
Momentum to bring the United States' first Cuban Consulate in more than a half-century to the Tampa Bay area has been building for months. The Tampa City Council, the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, the Ybor City boosters and Ybor City Chamber of Commerce already have announced their support.
Across the bay, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman has been vying to make his city the consulate's home.
During Wednesday's meeting, County Commissioner Les Miller said Hillsborough is the most logical home, even more than heavily Cuban Miami.
"Miami is a Johnny-come-lately to Tampa and Hillsborough County," Miller said.
He talked about the strong Cuban influences he grew up with in Ybor City.
"I remember the heyday when people from Tampa and Hillsborough County went to Cuba on the weekends to have a good time," Miller said.
The board acknowledged that the island nation still has issues to resolve, but was receptive to the argument made by Bob Rohrlack, president and CEO of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, that the county should get ahead of what is happening in Washington, D.C.
"We need to be proactive about what is coming down the road," Rohrlack said. "We have the infrastructure already in place — a top-ranked airport and a top-ranked seaport."
Rohrlack said recent trips to Cuba show the country will need help building tourism infrastructure, and that Tampa and Hillsborough should be the conduit through which those goods and supplies move.
The board voted 5-0 to draft a resolution in support of the consulate. Commissioners Al Higginbotham and Ken Hagan were in Toronto on a business trip. Commission chairwoman Sandy Murman said the board has been anticipating this issue and the resolution should be ready soon.
In other action, the board voted unanimously to approve a county ordinance that will help victims of lost wage theft recover that income.
The board voted at its last meeting to move forward with the plan, which is a hybrid between models in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties. The Hillsborough model will offer mediation services to the worker and employer through administrative hearings in state court. If that mediation fails, the county will point those filing a complaint to Bay Area Legal Services, a nonprofit that provides free legal counseling.
Times staffers Caitlin Johnston and Philip Morgan contributed to this report. Contact Katie Mettler at [email protected] or (813) 226-3446.