TAMPA — New mayor. New goals. Familiar strategy.
Watch for Tampa Mayor Jane Castor to begin working in the next few weeks on some business-related goals she outlined as a candidate. Her first step will be to name study groups consisting of city staff and outside stakeholders to make recommendations in five areas: affordable housing, workforce development, transportation, construction support and services, and resiliency and sustainability.
As she prioritizes their work, Castor will get part-time volunteer help from Carole Wallace Post, a former aide to New York Mayors Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg. Post now works at the University of South Florida as chief administrative officer and assistant vice president at USF Health.
With affordable housing, a dominant issue during the campaign, Castor said she wants to know "what we can do as a city looking at codes and ordinances that may hamper or slow down the creation of affordable housing." Then she wants the committee to look at ways to pay for more affordable housing and ways to assist buyers and renters.
When she ran, Castor also talked about looking at mom-and-pop hotels along N Nebraska Avenue as a potential spot for affordable micro-housing. That, she says, could be an entry-level option for younger prospective home buyers who cannot afford nearby Seminole Heights. The study group she'll name soon could help look at the feasibility of that idea and determine whether it has a track record someplace else that the city should copy.
"The thought is to find someone who has done that in another area, potentially a builder, and see if they have an interest in replicating it in Tampa," she said in an interview last week. "I'd like to have more than an idea when approaching some of the owners of those establishments."
This is similar to what her predecessor, former Mayor Bob Buckhorn, did soon after winning office in 2011. He appointed an "economic competitiveness committee," consisting of 17 land-use attorneys, engineers, builders or other development professionals, plus a City Council member and neighborhood representative. It recommended a series of changes to codes and ordinances, staff and organization and process and technology. For Buckhorn, it was a key step toward changing what he called the economic DNA of the city and setting the stage for eight years of robust growth.
'BEAT THAT MESSAGE HOME': Tampa's comeback was Bob Buckhorn's story, and he stuck to it
It is an idea that has not gone out of style.
The construction services committee that Castor plans to appoint will have a similar task: To look for ways to make city permitting, including its Accela land-use website, more efficient and user-friendly, because "permitting and contracting is just going to grow," she said.
The workforce development committee will consider possible city or School District efforts to increase apprenticeships in the skilled trades to help meet a growing demand for electricians, plumbers, pipe-fitters and others in construction. Castor also wants to partner with the private sector to convert a vacant city warehouse near N 30th Street and Hillsborough Avenue into a job-training center.
The resiliency and sustainability committee will look at, among other things, reducing the amount of paper used at City Hall.
"We're going to be doing a lot more electronically to the degree that it can be done," she said.
On the idea of raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, Castor advocated a gradual approach as a candidate. As mayor, her first step has been to ask for a report on how many of City Hall's full-time employees make less than that now. She does not think it's a large number. Next she wants to put together a plan to address those workers' pay on "a timeline that's manageable for the city." Only after that would she think about making the case more broadly.
"You can encourage people to do the right thing, but I have to be able to say we're doing the right thing first," she said.
One last thing that candidate Castor said she wanted to do as mayor was encourage innovation and the growth of Tampa's entrepreneurial ecosystem.
On that, she started her first day on the job.
Hours after taking the oath of office on May 1, Castor stopped by a pitch competition being sponsored as part of the Rise of the Rest tour that came to the bay area to spotlight tech entrepreneurship. Taking the stage before a crowd of several hundred startup founders and supporters, she turned to the eight competitors vying for a $100,000 prize for the best business pitch. Then she shared some advice she once got in another kind of contest.
"When you’re on the dance floor, the spotlight only goes around so many times," she said, "so when it lands on you, dance your a-- off."
Contact Richard Danielson at [email protected] or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times.