TAMPA — Mayoral candidate Ed Turanchik on Tuesday night accused former Mayor Dick Greco of making poor financial decisions that ultimately will cost the city $99 million.
At the end of a South Tampa candidates forum organized by neighborhood groups, Turanchik outlined four things he said had failed to "protect the taxpayers' interest":
• Former city housing chief Steve LaBrake's misuse of federal housing funds cost the city $4 million. Greco was mayor when LaBrake was sentenced to five years in prison on a conviction for conspiracy, fraud and bribery. The city repaid the federal government $4.4 million.
• Under Greco, the city paid renowned architect Rafael Vinoly $7 million to design a new Tampa Museum of Art. Later, Greco's successor, Mayor Pam Iorio, changed direction and went with a different design.
• Centro Ybor, the shopping complex that Greco made possible in 1997, will wind up costing the city $16.3 million over the course of a 14-year bailout.
To get the project off the ground, Greco's administration pledged city funds to cover a $9 million loan from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. If developers couldn't make the payments, the city promised it would, and pledged money intended for low-income housing and community development.
Less than a year after Greco left office, the city said the project's owners could not pay the rest of the HUD loan. The city now is using money from a federal community development grant to repay the debt.
• Turanchik said the city ultimately will pay $72 million in interest to retire debt the Greco administration took on for a series of public safety projects, including buying the former SunTrust Bank building by City Hall as a new police headquarters.
In 1996, Greco urged the City Council to approve borrowing more than $23 million to ease crowding at police headquarters, replace aging fire trucks with up to 100,000 miles on them and upgrade other emergency equipment.
At the time, the city was paying $13.5 million a year in utility tax revenues on debt associated with the Tampa Convention Center. That debt was due to be paid off in 2015.
In a vote the City Council embraced with little enthusiasm, it agreed to make seven more payments of $13.5 million beginning in 2016 to repay money borrowed for the police station and emergency equipment.
In addition to buying the bank building for about $3 million and renovating it, the city borrowed money for two new police substations, one in West Tampa and one near Busch Gardens, a new police and fire communications center and more than two dozen pieces of new equipment for Tampa Fire Rescue.
At the time, Greco said the financing was unusual, but necessary. One council member pointed out then that over the years, the city would end up paying more than $94 million for $23 million worth of projects.
"I never did such a thing as a county commissioner. I would never do such a thing in business," Turanchik said Tuesday night.
He said he wasn't criticizing the projects — but rather the financing decisions.
After the forum, Greco suggested Turanchik mischaracterized the $23 million as being spent only on the police station.
In a campaign flier, Turanchik described the project as a "police headquarters purchase of $23 million," which he later said was a shorthand way of describing a bundle of spending.
Greco said he got the old bank building for "next to nothing."
"We didn't make unwise decisions," Greco said. "We made decisions when they needed to be made."
Greco said he would not get involved in saying negative things about other candidates.
"I just don't operate that way," he said. "They can say anything they want. We've got a record to stand on. It's about that simple."
Turanchik also included former City Council members Bob Buckhorn and Rose Ferlita in his criticism, though he acknowledged that Ferlita was not on the council for two of the decisions that involved the most money.
Ferlita joined the council in 1999, after the Centro Ybor and police station projects were launched. She declined to comment after the forum.
Buckhorn said he called for LaBrake's firing or resignation long before LaBrake left the city and voted against using community investment tax money for the art museum.
But he did vote for the Centro Ybor project, which he thinks will pay off over time, as well as the bond issue for the police and fire departments.
"We got that building at less than probably what construction would be," Buckhorn said. "I think it was a good investment. It moved Tampa police out of an aging and archaic building that was rat-infested, and I think it made sense."
With two weeks until the March 1 election, Turanchik defended his criticism of Greco.
"I think there's an interest in trying to paint the Greco years as some kind of Camelot," Turanchik said. "They did some great things, but they did some things that were unwise. It's fair game to point those out."
One way or another, he said, "I think we've entered a new era of mayoral debates now."