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Tampa's new economic competitiveness strategy nears completion

TAMPA — Making Tampa more business-friendly is expected to take new simplified city codes, new technology and a new attitude at City Hall.

Oh, and a little more time for the committee writing the plan.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn's economic competitiveness committee — 17 lawyers, engineers, developers, builders, plus a City Council member and a neighborhood representative — began meeting in early July.

Buckhorn talks of "changing Tampa's economic DNA" as a way to cultivate redevelopment, invigorate the local economy and attract bright young professionals to the city. He asked the committee for recommendations on how to change Tampa's reputation as a tough place to get a rezoning or a building permit.

"When we come out of this, I think folks will see a very different attitude, a very different culture, a very different process," Buckhorn says.

To do that, committee members are looking at changes in three areas:

Codes and ordinances. In a draft report, the committee describes the city's existing process as "confusing, unpredictable, time-consuming and costly for anyone trying to do business in the city." It is poised to recommend taking development regulations scattered throughout the city's codes, eliminating unnecessary ones, and putting them in one unified code.

Process and technology. Here the recommendations include establishing a single authority over interpretations of the code, creating a more "customer-driven culture" and upgrading the city's technology. Buckhorn says a builder should be able to check on a permit's status from an iPad.

Staff and organization. The committee is recommending bringing city staffers who work on various aspects of development review into one department and creating an "ombudsman" position to help facilitate complex projects.

"The physical changes will be dramatic," Buckhorn says. "We're going to move a lot of city staff to the construction services center, including some folks who haven't historically been assigned there — water, wastewater, solid waste — so that there is truly a one-stop shop."

And when he says move them, he means moving their chain of command from their current department, too, "so they will be totally focused on the permitting and regulatory process."

"Right now, they're all over the playing field, and they all report to different people," he said.

While the mayor aimed to have the committee wrap up its work in six months, by early January, committee members decided at their last meeting they will need until the end of January, if not longer.

During the committee's 90-minute discussion, it was easy to see why.

Some decisions were straightforward: For example, instead of having developers fill out three separate but similar applications for water, wastewater and garbage collection, why not consolidate those into a single utility service form?

"This seems like a pretty easy one to me to endorse," said committee member Elizabeth Abernethy, a planner with WilsonMiller Stantec.

But other issues, such as what to recommend about the tree code or impact fees, led some committee members to say the group had yet to address some key issues in sufficient detail.

"I would rather take longer and get it right than not spend the time and deliver something that really is ineffective," said City Council member Lisa Montelione, a committee member who also works in a small construction firm.

Richard Danielson can be reached at [email protected] tampabay.com or (813) 226-3403.

Tampa's new economic competitiveness strategy nears completion 12/22/11 [Last modified: Thursday, December 22, 2011 3:30am]
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