Saturday, January 20, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Fair property offer needs skeptical eye

The Florida State Fair is smart to look at maximizing its unused property on its sprawling home east of Tampa. Creating a new revenue stream could bolster the fair's finances and help it maintain its mission of promoting Florida history, agriculture and education. But a bid by a private group seeking to take control of the property looks like a weak deal that leaves the fair more as a public front than a public-minded institution. The fair authority's governing board should seriously vet this offer before even considering a vote.

Republic Land Development has proposed remaking nearly 200 acres of the 330-acre site, virtually the entire footprint with the exception of the midway area, amphitheater and Cracker Country, an outdoor re-creation of old Florida. In the first phase, the developer would bring a 200-room hotel (which could double in size), an athletic facility, virtual golf and a water sports and wake board park.

Republic's concept is to create a tourist destination for sports and entertainment. Future phases would include a drive-in theater, "high-end" bowling alley, a "restaurant park" and retail, including a big-box store near the fair's gateway at Interstate 4 and U.S. 301.

Entertainment is certainly an appropriate use of fair property. But this plan is a catchall that fails to balance entertainment and profit with the fair's historic mission of promoting the culture and economy of Florida. What do bowling and golf have to do with Florida history and agriculture? Is it smart or fair to allow public land to underwrite a theme park, restaurants and stores, giving them a competitive advantage against other private businesses?

The proposal also raises larger concerns. The build-out would hem in the midway and exhibits, making it hard to expand. These areas are crowded already; not increasing the circulation space would be bad for safety and the visitor experience, and it goes against the recommendation of the fair authority's own master plan. The fair's take also looks small. The hotel, for example, is expected to generate $250,000 a year for the first decade to the authority. But the developer wants to offset those payments by the proceeds from a special taxing district that would pay for improvements to the property. So the fair would be financing this project in the form of reduced rents to tenants using public land to turn a profit.

The fair's biggest asset is its location, at the crossroads of two major highways convenient to 5 million people. The board should be sensitive to how the land is used and the length of time any development would tie up the property. Republic wants a lease that could extend 70 years. Board members should not get swept away by the first and only offer on the table.

The authority was established under Florida law to "stimulate public interest" in the history, economy and culture of the state. And as the authority pointed out this year, the duty to promote the role that agriculture plays becomes even more important as the state becomes more urban. It is essential that private profits be appropriately balanced with the fair's unique mission of furthering a way of life and a vital industry.

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Editorial: Criminal charges should finally wake up FSU fraternities to hazing’s dangers

Editorial: Criminal charges should finally wake up FSU fraternities to hazing’s dangers

The death last fall of a 20-year-old Florida State University fraternity pledge revealed pervasive dangerous behavior within the school’s Greek system. Andrew Coffey, a Pi Kappa Phi pledge, died from alcohol poisoning after an off-campus party, and a...
Published: 01/19/18

Editorial: Confronting racial distrust in St. Petersburg, one conversation at a time

The St. Petersburg Police Department’s heavy presence in Midtown on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the community animosity it stirred have raised a familiar, troubling question: Can St. Petersburg’s racial divisions ever be reconciled?That big ideal ...
Published: 01/19/18
William March: Tampa Bay Democrats line up for state legislative races

William March: Tampa Bay Democrats line up for state legislative races

A surge of Democrats seeking local legislative offices and hoping for a "blue wave" in the 2018 election continued last week, led by Bob Buesing filing to run again versus state Sen. Dana Young, R-Tampa.In addition:• Heather Kenyon Stahl of Tampa has...
Published: 01/19/18
Editorial: Saying ‘thank you’ helps Tampa police build needed trust

Editorial: Saying ‘thank you’ helps Tampa police build needed trust

The smiles, applause and at least one hug belied the grim impetus for a gathering last week at a neighborhood center in Tampa — the Seminole Heights killings.The Tampa Police Department held a ceremony to thank those who helped in the investigation t...
Published: 01/19/18

Editorial: State’s warning shot should get attention of Hillsborough schools

The state Board of Education hopefully sent the message this week with its warning shot about the slow pace of the turnaround at Hillsborough County’s low-performing schools.The board criticized the school system for failing to replace administrators...
Published: 01/18/18
Updated: 01/19/18
Editorial: More talk, answers needed on future of USF St. Petersburg

Editorial: More talk, answers needed on future of USF St. Petersburg

The Florida Legislature’s abrupt move to strip the University of South Florida St. Petersburg of its hard-earned separate accreditation and transform it back into a satellite of the major research university lacks detail and an appreciation for histo...
Published: 01/18/18

Another voice: Self-dealing by nursing home owners threatens patient care

The outsourcing of logistical support services, which became commonplace in the U.S. military in the 1990s and later was adopted by state prison systems, has now come to dominate the nursing home industry. And while nursing homes, unlike the military...
Published: 01/17/18
Editorial: Making illegal sewage discharges legal is wrong answer

Editorial: Making illegal sewage discharges legal is wrong answer

Three years into a crisis with its sewer system, St. Petersburg has a dandy new idea for dealing with the environmental fallout of dumping dirty water into the aquifer. Instead of committing to banning the outlawed practice, a consultant suggested th...
Published: 01/16/18
Updated: 01/17/18
Editorial: Tighten substitute teacher rules in Hillsborough

Editorial: Tighten substitute teacher rules in Hillsborough

A substitute teacher at a Plant City elementary school berated a class of fourth graders — and then the school principal. Another compared a student to a stripper. Others were caught napping, hitting children, making sexual remarks, giving students b...
Published: 01/16/18
Updated: 01/17/18
Editorial: Balancing the playing field for workers’ compensation

Editorial: Balancing the playing field for workers’ compensation

For the longest time, injured workers in Florida were basically at the mercy of the whims of employers to treat them fairly. A 2003 law aimed at reducing the cost of workers’ compensation coverage for businesses had the desired impact, but it also di...
Published: 01/16/18