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Business goes into unknown after vote

The welcome mat has been out for business at Mayor Dick Greco's office for the past eight years.

But with voters set to elect a new mayor March 25, some business people _ especially developers and builders _ are worried what kind of reception they'll receive at a City Hall under new management.

Particularly one run by Pam Iorio, the favorite after finishing first in a four-way election earlier this month with 46 percent of the vote.

The buzz in some business circles is that with a 17-year career in government, Iorio lacks business know-how and big-league management skills. It's a theme being emphasized by opponent Frank Sanchez, whose campaign is largely bankrolled by business and development leaders.

Critics even raise the spectre of former Mayor Sandy Freedman, who butted heads with powerful business interests and became the Greco campaign's symbol for everything wrong with City Hall. He succeeded her in 1995.

But with Iorio holding a commanding lead, most business people are tactful in expressing any concerns, merely acknowledging there's unease moving from Greco's prodevelopment administration into the unknown.

"When the Greco administration came in, there seemed to be this sigh of relief," said Stephen Michelini, a lobbyist who represents developers. "There are people who don't know if they've got to hold their breath, if it'll be a sunny day or a storm."

Political consultant Wayne Garcia, who is not working for either mayoral candidate, also hears the concern. Iorio was a moderate on development issues on the Hillsborough County commission, he said, but that might be a rude awakening for business people used to being greeted with open arms at City Hall.

"The problem they have is with Pam, they might not walk in like they do now and get direct access," Garcia said. "For people not used to having a level playing field, it might be disconcerting."

Freedman jokes about a fear of "a Sandy redux" among power brokers. She thinks Iorio will balance their interests with those of neighborhoods.

"There's a history in this city that if you're a major developer, you get whatever you want," Freedman said. "I leveled the playing field, and I think Pam will level the playing field. And that's a good thing."

Iorio says years as a county commissioner and Hillsborough's elections supervisor taught her administrative skills and the ability to bring together people with different views.

"The private sector must know my administration . . . will work with everyone, will be flexible and can work," she said Tuesday.

Greco stepped down as mayor in the early 1970s to take a job with shopping mall giant Edward J. DeBartolo. Upon returning as mayor, Greco immediately won points with builders and developers by eliminating regulations they considered outdated and unreasonable.

Assisted by the tail wind of a strong economy, Greco steered big private projects into downtown and Ybor City. After numerous false starts, he closed a deal to build a hotel beside the ailing Tampa Convention Center.

A key to making it work was Greco's creation of a "SWAT team" of staffers. They met weekly with hotel operator Marriott and developers to iron out problems through contract negotiations and construction, said Stephen Mitchell, an attorney representing the hotel owners.

For developers of the Centro Ybor entertainment and retail complex, consultant Garcia said, Greco and his staff helped put together tax credits that made the project fly financially. "With Greco, it's all the art of the deal," he said.

Sanchez, who won 21 percent of the vote, has adopted the mantle of business' friend. He promotes his experience as an international business consultant since returning to Tampa in 2001 from a high-level job in Washington with the Department of Transportation.

He and his supporters contrast that with Iorio's public sector background.

"He owns a business and has competed for business _ that's a real job," said Julia Rettig, former state president of an industrial and office property trade group, NAIOP. "He knows how to make a living in the real world and how to make money in the real world."

But Iorio has her business supporters, too. Last week, she won the endorsement of the Tampa Bay Builders Association, which represents Hillsborough and Pinellas home builders. The group backed City Councilman Bob Buckhorn in the primary.

"I'd liken her experience to being on a board of directors, and she was a CEO as elections supervisor," said Joseph Narkiewicz, the group's executive vice president. "She's accessible to all constituents and has a keen understanding of the building and development community."

Al Austin, a prominent developer and Sanchez supporter, said the candidates have different strengths: Iorio has better political skills; Sanchez more administrative experience.

"It's easier to learn political skills than administrative skills," he said. "For someone who's not dealt with (a job) of this magnitude, it could be overwhelming. If she becomes mayor, I hope she selects the right people to give her advice."

_ Steve Huettel can be reached at huettelsptimes.com or (813) 226-3384.

Contributors

A sampling of prominent business contributors in the Tampa mayor's Race

FOR FRANK SANCHEZ:

Associated Builders & Contractors, $500

Associated Builders & Developers, $500

Carlos Alfonso, Alfonso Architects, $500

Cushman & Wakefield, commercial real estate, $500

Edward J. DeBartolo Jr., DeBartolo Group (developer) $500

Fla. Manufactured Housing Assn., $500

Thomas Pepin & Peppin Distributing Co, Budweiser distributor, $1,500

Chris Sullivan, Outback Steakhouse, $500

John H. Skyes, Sykes Enterprises, $500

Donald Wallace & companies (Lazy Days RV, I-4 Land Holding Ltd.), $1,500

FOR PAM IORIO:

Bay Farms Corp. (Kinsman Farm): $500

Cargill Fertilizer: $500

D&M Construction Group: $500

Engelhardt, Hammer & Assoc., development: $500

Vincent Naimoli, Tampa Bay Devil Rays owner: $500

George Steinbrenner, New York Yankees owner: $500

FOR BOTH:

Carlton Fields, law firm: $500 to each candidate

Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum, architects: $500 to each

URS, construction: Sanchez, $500; Iorio, $250

James Ferman & companies (Ferman Motor Car., Ferman on Kennedy): Sanchez, $1,500; Iorio, $500

Fla. Restaurant Assn., $500 to each

Phosphate Committee of Continuous Existence, $500 to each

Source: Campaign finance records through Feb. 27

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