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The evolution of Tampa through the eyes of Dick Greco

The four times mayor of Tampa talks with the Tampa Bay Times about turbulent times and good times in his two stints as mayor, separated by 20 years.
Former Tampa Mayor Dick Greco poses for a portrait at his balcony in Tampa on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020.
Former Tampa Mayor Dick Greco poses for a portrait at his balcony in Tampa on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Dec. 19, 2020

Times Correspondent

Dick Greco first served as city councilman and mayor of Tampa during the turbulent 1960s. He ran for mayor again in 1995 and served two more terms. He left office in 2003, when the local economy was booming. Greco lives with his wife, South Tampa physician Linda McClintock, in a condo at the Virage on Bayshore Boulevard, overlooking Tampa Bay and the downtown skyline.

Now 87, Greco talked with the Tampa Bay Times about his life and career. This is the second part of the conversation. Go to see the first part, which appeared last Sunday.

Racial strife in the 1960s engulfed the nation, including Tampa. How did you address that?

When I was first on the City Council, I saw so many things I felt needed to be done. ...

For instance, Moses White, who was one of my dearest friends, had a barbecue stand there on Central Avenue (the predominantly Black business district). There were a lot of things that needed to be done. A lot of minorities weren’t getting treated right. … Then we had the riots in ’67 (sparked by a white police officer fatally shooting a Black man). I marched down the street, got everybody together and so forth. And Moses was telling me that Central Avenue needed to go. They were selling dope there. We all worked together. We got a group – Bob Gilder, head of NAACP, and many, many others. …

There were slums everywhere. I saw things that I had never seen. ... I talked to people that were 80 years old and lived in the same city that I did and had never had a hot bath in their life. Didn’t have hot water in the house. ...

That was due to a lot of people who called it to our attention. … Moses used to come every time something was going on. And he said, you have a lot of friends that will swim with you. I’ll drown with you. And he meant that.

So we got together and decided what needs to be done here. So I hired the first Black in the mayor’s office in the history of Tampa, (secretary) Evelyn Wilson. Her son became a judge. And I hired the first Black assistant city attorney in the Southeastern United States, Warren Dawson.

We started an on-the-job training program (to recruit more minority workers). People threatened to kill my kids.

Photo Credit: Amy Scherzer 

Surrounded by elected officials, former Mayor Dick Greco sits beside his bronze likeness  in Dick Greco Plaza at the southern end of Franklin Street.
Photo Credit: Amy Scherzer Surrounded by elected officials, former Mayor Dick Greco sits beside his bronze likeness in Dick Greco Plaza at the southern end of Franklin Street. [ AMY SCHERZER | Photo: Amy Scherzer ]

Federal dollars, which helped replace slums with public housing, made a lot of city projects possible in your time.

We got more federal money of any city our size in America. We made friends with all those (federal representatives). … They would come down here and we’d have a great time, take them to Ybor City partying all night. ...

And when you stop and think of what was done with those dollars. For example, the bay that we’re looking at out there now… everything imaginable was floating around in it. You flush the toilet; it went right into the bay.

I didn’t know what tertiary treatment was. Neither did most other people. I forget, I’d say (it cost) $17 million or something to build a plant that would make the water drinkable. Well, that made sense, but of course you couldn’t have done it without federal money.

Tampa mayors, Bob Buckhorn, left, Pam Iorio, Dick Greco, Sandy Freedman, Bob Martinez and Bill Poe in 2013.
Tampa mayors, Bob Buckhorn, left, Pam Iorio, Dick Greco, Sandy Freedman, Bob Martinez and Bill Poe in 2013.

You resigned as mayor in 1974 to become a vice-president of the Edward J. DeBartolo Corp. You explained that you had three children to put through college. Was it hard to leave?

We had one (skyscraper), the First National Bank. We had topped it out. DeBartolo offered me a job that I almost had to take. It bothered me so much that I went and sat on the other side of the river, where Tampa U is, where I went to college. I was looking at that one building and knowing other things were coming and so forth, and I wondered how long it would take. And here we are, 50 some years later, all you see is cranes and new buildings going up everywhere you look. … It was a hard decision for me to make. I love this city so much, and we had gotten so much done.

The half-penny Community Investment Tax in 1996 was controversial because some of the money went to building a new football stadium, home to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

That saved us. ...Schools were about to go on double session. And the police department needed money. For those two issues they were going to vote in a sales tax. And people wanted a stadium and one thing or another that wasn’t as important as other things. But they put it up for a vote and it failed. Well, we had to do something. ...

(Hillsborough County Commissioner) Joe Chillura came up with the idea of a Community Investment Tax. … Several of us got together, Joe and myself and several others that worked together to get all these things done. … We included the stadium and it passed.

People came together also to save Babe Zaharias Golf Course in Forest Hills from a developer’s bulldozers, you say. What happened?

They were going to tear up the golf course and build houses. Well, everybody went bananas out there. And that was getting a bunch of people together.

(The developer’s representatives) had to get approval from the city to build what they wanted to build, and that became a very difficult thing for them. And finally I had a meeting with them. I said, “Look, you can sell us that land and deduct it from your income tax.’' I had some people helping me with that, several people, and a bunch of meetings, and they realized they weren’t going to get zoning to do what they wanted to get done. They had a piece of land that was not worth much, and we came up with a reasonable figure. That’s how we own the Forest Hills golf course.

Was it fun being mayor?

I loved every minute of it. I could do it 24 hours a day. I’d get up in the middle of the night and go on a police call and not even go to bed. I had an appointment every 15 to 20 minutes with whoever wanted to come. We got so much done.

Mayoral candidate Dick Greco arrived at the Tampa Garden Club to vote in 2010. He was greeted by supporters and rain. [SKIP O'ROURKE  |  Times]
Mayoral candidate Dick Greco arrived at the Tampa Garden Club to vote in 2010. He was greeted by supporters and rain. [SKIP O'ROURKE | Times] [ O'ROURKE, SKIP | St. Petersburg Times ]