Tampa got a bigger bump than Mitt Romney from this summer's Republican National Convention, and the challenge for the mayor, civic leaders and the business community is to build on what's working. The heavy security presence drew the most criticism, some of it overstated, but now that it's gone, the real deficit needs attention — the lack of things to do and see across downtown. • The convention papered over larger challenges the city needs to confront to truly make its downtown a 24/7 destination. The Channelside Bay Plaza retail complex continues to struggle; its movie theaters closed abruptly last week. The pocket parks are few and don't provide much meaningful public space. Downtown canceled its popular Friday market. Bus service is weak. There is no full-service grocery. And local leaders are still on separate pages when it comes to public investment in the city center.
Mayor Bob Buckhorn gave the streetcar some much-needed support last month, vowing to help the electric trolley stabilize its finances and become a more practical transit option for locals and tourists alike. But the mayor went further by underscoring that the trolley was here to stay. That should give confidence to businesses and residences along the Ybor City-downtown route, and it should lay a foundation for extending the streetcar into the city center. HART, the local mass transit agency, lacks the funding base to give downtown the robust service it needs. Though the 2010 county transit referendum failed, the measure passed in the city. Officials need to put another plan on the table.
The bank that controls the Channelside retail and entertainment complex needs to make a decision on new management, the sooner the better. Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik has proposed taking over the facility, which is in receivership. Bringing that venue back to life will bolster the new residential areas along the Channel District. But downtown is also afflicted with block after block of vacant retail space. These boarded-up storefronts make the streets feel lifeless and undermine the very investment the city is making to draw pedestrians downtown. The city should explore ways to give entrepreneurs and small businesses access to temporary or popup retail. And bringing a grocery downtown should be a priority.
Tampa has made great strides over the last decade in opening up a waterfront blocked by office towers and parking garages. The city needs to complete the final stage of the Riverwalk and open Water Works Park, and look to bring Riverfront Park, on the western side of the river, into the downtown circle of events. The city also needs another park on downtown's barren east side. Breaking up the concrete jungle and keeping the parks busy with events are key to bringing people downtown and giving residents the amenities they expect — dog runs and outdoor areas — in any neighborhood. The city should also look to collapse the aging downtown library complex and build a more usable facility.