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Make neighborhoods a priority

Tampa Mayor Dick Greco has delivered much of what candidate Greco promised three years ago. Ybor City is alive, the developers are happy, and City Hall is more responsive, even friendly. Greco's charm and nostalgic touch have warmed the machinery of government. That is no small achievement. Now Greco should use his popularity and leadership to improve Tampa's neighborhoods.

The work is not prone to capture headlines or Greco's attention. Greco is not a detail guy; he never promised to be. "I consider myself a salesman," he said in 1994, kicking off his candidacy. A career shopping mall developer, Greco likes splashy bricks-and-mortar deals. He shuns the tedium of neighborhood politics, the nagging and the complaints.

Still, the first-term, second-time-around mayor has practical and political reasons not to allow the neighborhoods to become his most significant piece of unfinished business. By redeveloping the neighborhoods, the city can offset its limited capacity to grow by inching property values upward, thereby expanding the tax base. The benefits are many. Urban renewal can inject money and pride into the neighborhoods, help save small and independent businesses, become a method for improving race relations by mixing the demographic makeup of communities and serve as a tool to blunt the spread of crime and drugs.

The priorities are different for every neighborhood. In Hyde Park, the city should support historic preservation efforts. In Tampa Heights, the city should crack down on nuisance crimes and toughen code enforcement. In Seminole Heights, the city should create a business district to serve the growing, but commercially isolated, community. The vision to solve these problems exists. But vision means nothing without the will to follow through.

Greco is not afraid to exert strong leadership. Under his administration, the city has taken control of the struggling Florida Aquarium, an unfortunate but responsible move, and made clear its commitment to develop the downtown waterfront. A convention hotel appears in the offing. Corporate relocations are up. Crime is down. The city will build millions of dollars worth of infrastructure in the coming years.

Breathing life into Tampa's older neighborhoods will require Greco to unleash the same can-do confidence among residents that he has instilled among outside developers. The momentum is moving in Ybor. With an approval rating measured earlier this year at 72 percent, Greco should be looking for more meaningful ways to spend his political capital. Unlike his predecessor, Sandy Freedman, or David Fischer, the mayor's counterpart in St. Petersburg, Greco has not been distracted by racial disturbances, or undercut politically by the police department, or had his agenda stalled by the opposition of a consequential city council. These are not criticisms, but opportunities Greco should exploit. He could not find a better time to rally the neighborhoods.