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Cultural center is Orlando Gudes’ latest council win for East Tampa

Just four months after winning a City Council seat, Gudes is quickly securing big-ticket budget items for Tampa’s only majority-black district.
Tampa City Council member Orlando Gudes during a June meeting.
Tampa City Council member Orlando Gudes during a June meeting. [ OCTAVIO JONES | Times ]
Published Sep. 4, 2019
Updated Sep. 4, 2019

TAMPA — City Council member Orlando Gudes is on a roll.

Last week he won a commitment to establish ambulance service in East Tampa. Then during the city’s first budget hearing late Tuesday, Gudes said he couldn’t go along with Mayor Jane Castor’s proposed $1.4 billion budget unless it included $2 million for another proposed East Tampa project, a cultural center at Al Barnes Park.

RELATED STORY: Orlando Gudes gets an ambulance for East Tampa

“My community is hungry,” Gudes said, repeating the phrase he employed to secure ambulance service. That’s his way of saying his community has been ignored for too long.

And he said he won’t accept what he suggested has long been City Hall’s traditional attitude toward his constituents: “It’s just East Tampa. They’re always yelling.”

“I’m not backing off of the issue,” said Gudes, who was elected to his first term in May.

His colleagues agreed, voting unanimously to amend the budget to include $1 million to help build the center. Gudes said it has been a decade-long priority for residents to build the center at the park at 2902 N 32nd St.

“I’m going to support you because your community deserves it and a lot more," said fellow council member Guido Maniscalco.

Castor’s interim chief financial officer, Dennis Rogero, cautioned the council from granting Gudes’ original request to take the money from the city’s projected $106 million reserves, saying it could lead to higher interest rates for the city.

He also said no design for the center had been completed, rendering the future cost unknown. Castor had already agreed to fund a $400,000 master plan for the city’s park system which would help determine the cost of the cultural center, chief of staff John Bennett added.

Gudes said East Tampa has waited long enough. As a black man, he said, he has grown tired of the city’s broken promises ― and his constituents in the city’s only majority-black district have, too.

"A million dollars is nothing,' Gudes said. “That’s not going to kill our rating. I don’t believe that.”

Gudes did agree to the administration’s request for flexibility on where the money will come from, saying the Castor administration could take the cash from wherever it wanted before the council takes a final budget vote on Sept. 17.

A majority of council members appear to have verbally agreed that the other $1 million for the center would come from the East Tampa Community Redevelopment Area. Council members, in another capacity, sit as final arbiters of spending in the city’s CRAs.

That wasn’t the only change to Castor’s budget. Council members Joe Citro and John Dingfelder revived a request to give $108,000 to the Tampa Bay Arts & Entertainment Network, which had lost about that amount in city support two years ago.

The local non-profit cable channel officials had asked for city support last week, saying their programming and services were an important cultural asset to the community

Citro’s motion passed 5-2 with council chair Luis Viera and and member Charlie Miranda voting no.

Castor’s office issued a statement on Wednesday.

“We could not be more thrilled of council’s overwhelming support of Mayor Castor’s first budget,” said spokeswoman Ashley Bauman. “Ultimately, our goal with this budget is to be fully transparent in our strategic investments while also being good fiscal stewards for our residents.”

The mayor could exercise a line item veto on the projects or choose to ignore the council’s budget requests — but she could pay a heavy political cost since council members have final approval over the budget.

This is the second setback for Castor on fiscal matters in recent weeks. Last week, council members rejected Castor’s proposal to include $300 million on a controversial plan to convert highly-treated wastewater to drinking water.

Castor hasn’t officially confirmed that she will pull that amount from her request for increased water and sewer rates that will pay for a $3.1 billion in sewer and water fixes over the next 20 years. That City Council vote comes Thursday.

RELATED STORY: Council says they don’t want city’s ‘toilet to tap’ plan in proposed rate increase