TAMPA — Some Hillsborough commissioners feared part of an economic catalyst could be kaput.
Wednesday, Commissioner Pat Kemp said the county’s pitch for a private company to redevelop the 74-acre Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) property on Fowler Avenue was problematic without guarantees the future project would preserve a right of way for a potential urban rail and suitable space for the science museum.
Meanwhile, Commissioner Mariella Smith said the request for the development to include “attainable housing'' was too open-ended and could be construed as seeking homes valued at hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Commission Chairman Les Miller Jr. said such concerns might be misplaced.
“If you don’t have jobs out there, there’s not houses that are going to be utilized,‘' said Miller.
The county calls the MOSI site a “community catalyst,' of a desired mix-used development of housing and industries that could range from a movie studio, health sciences and technology. It would be part of a larger, sustainable high-tech district covering 19 square miles between Interstate 275 and 75 and from Bearss Avenue to Busch Boulevard. Dubbed the Uptown Innovation District, it includes the University of South Florida, H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and the former University Mall, which is now rebranded as Uptown in an area where $2.4 billion worth of projects are planned.
“This is our region’s gateway,‘' said Mark Sharpe, executive director of the Tampa Innovation Alliance. “For tens of of thousands of people each day this is their first impression of Hillsborough County and Tampa as they enter.‘‘
The area is home to 84,000 people, 7 percent of the county’s population, who largely failed to share the economic prosperity of the previous decade, said Sharp. And, with the addition of the pandemic, the economic downturn and the ongoing fight for social justice “our area has become a flash point,‘' he said.
On Wednesday, commissioners authorized a $100,000 appropriation to the Tampa Innovation Alliance, Inc. to complete its business development plan for the Uptown Innovation District. Late last year, the county, city of Tampa and the alliance agreed to share the $2 million start-up costs for the district.
However, commissioners had multiple questions about the accommodating request for proposal, or RFP — government vernacular for a legal advertisement — seeking a master developer for the MOSI land within the innovation district.
Smith amended the request to strike “attainable housing'' and replace it with mixed-income to ensure more than market-rate housing was part of the project.
“We want to make sure we don’t make it worse for them,‘' Commissioner Kimberly Overman said about potential gentrification displacing affordable housing options for residents.
But the fate of MOSI, which downsized three years ago, brought the most scrutiny. The proposal request said multiple buildings on the MOSI property are vacant and could be demolished.
“There seems to be aspiration talk of MOSI, but no guarantees that MOSI would in any way stay there,‘' said Kemp, a MOSI board member. “.....We do need a museum of science it needs to be more robust than what have there.‘'
Likewise, commissioners said the CSX right of way needed to be preserved within the development.
“We would not want to wake up 10 years from now and found we had blown the chance to protect the CSX right of way.‘' said Smith.
Commissioners approved the proposal after changing it to seek protections for both the museum and the rail line.
Commissioner Sandy Murman noted the request is only an interim step in redeveloping the museum property.
“There’s no obligation in this,‘' she said. “We have the ability to control the flow and what is going to be included and we will have the final decision.‘'