The annual state of the city address that Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn will deliver today will paint a rosy picture of a city on the move. It also will be his final such address before the 2015 re-election campaign. Buckhorn should use this opportunity to sketch out an ambitious agenda that addresses the challenges and potential of the Tampa Bay region.
No one begrudges the mayor an opportunity to point to successes. Aside from the mistake of allowing a high-rise to crowd the downtown waterfront, Buckhorn has been an able chief executive who has worked tirelessly to promote the region since taking office in 2011. But mayors in Tampa rarely draw strong opponents for re-election, thus denying voters a real opportunity to assess their record or plans for the future. Buckhorn should use this speech to fill in the blanks.
The development downtown and in the channel district, the new international flights at Tampa International Airport, the rebirth of older neighborhoods, the regional approach to tourism and keeping the Tampa Bay Rays — these are all smart efforts that Buckhorn should pledge to build on in a second term. The recovering economy has firmed up the city's finances and cleared the way for a slew of projects, from parks to apartment towers, to open in the coming years. The city also has been smart about using key cultural assets to draw new development across various parts of town. Sulphur Springs and East Tampa still need more attention. But by continuing to spend on parks, utilities, code enforcement and other basics, the mayor has set the table for private investment and created an excitement about city living.
Buckhorn should explain how he would build on this progress. How would he spur development downtown without encroaching further on the riverfront? What role will mass transportation play in the remake of the older urban neighborhoods? Will the city create a modern mission and presence for the downtown library? What housing and antipoverty initiatives are planned for central and east Tampa?
Buckhorn should also offer more expansive ideas for how he would grow the region. Does he envision, and will he champion, a new countywide transportation initiative? How will the city and region work more closely with the University of South Florida and other leading institutions to foster new industry and diversify the job market? How can Tampa strengthen the cultural arts to boost tourism and the quality of life on both sides of the bay?
With city elections less than a year away, Buckhorn's address is an opportunity to frame where he would go from here. Everyone knows the Republican National Convention went well two years ago; the question now is how the mayor intends to deliver on his plans for remaking downtown and West Tampa; for attracting younger workers and creative industries; for improving health, housing and job opportunities in the roughest neighborhoods; and for continuing to bring the region together to compete against other metropolitan areas.