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Mayor Jane Castor and Tampa City Council set to tangle over urban blight, again

The mayor traditionally calls the shots on what goes on in the city’s eight community redevelopment areas. Will that change?
Tampa City Council members will consider a plan to hire an executive director for the city's eight community redevelopment areas Thursday.
Tampa City Council members will consider a plan to hire an executive director for the city's eight community redevelopment areas Thursday. [ Times ]
Published Dec. 11, 2019
Updated Dec. 11, 2019

TAMPA — For most of her nearly eight months in office, Mayor Jane Castor and Tampa City Council members have wrestled over who will control the city’s eight community redevelopment areas.

On Thursday morning, they tackle the issue again.

In October, council members appeared to back away from a move to take over direct control of the redevelopment areas. In return, Castor agreed to create a new position of executive director whose responsibility would be to run the districts, which were created to reduce poverty and blight in some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods.

But still unanswered are some crucial questions: Will the director report to the mayor or council members? Will council members have the right to approve whoever Castor decides to hire? Can they fire that person if they’re displeased with the performance?

At an October workshop, Castor’s chief of staff John Bennett outlined a plan in which the community redevelopment director would report to the mayor. Only council member Bill Carlson openly opposed that proposal. But the next month, the issue appeared murkier, with council members John Dingfelder and Orlando Gudes appearing more inclined to support some sort of council control over the director.

RELATED: Castor reasserts control over city’s redevelopment areas

The stakes are significant. Last year, redevelopment areas collected more than $29 million in property tax revenue. Their boundaries cover not only needier communities but also some of the city’s most coveted real estate, including downtown, the Channel District and part of Tampa Heights.

RELATED: Are redevelopment areas hurting Tampa?

City Council members also serve as board members for the Community Redevelopment Agency, which has the final say on what is spent in the areas. But traditionally, the management of the areas have been the purview of the mayor.

In the past, redevelopment area dollars have paid for modest things like sidewalks and also helped fund major projects like the Convention Center. For years, Tampa elected officials have debated whether redevelopment area dollars might help bankroll a Tampa Bay Rays ballpark.

Carlson has led the effort to assert City Council control over the areas. He says council members have the power to control what happens in the development areas — they just need to assert themselves.

“I think it’s a mistake that City Council for a long time has delegated their authority to the mayor’s office,” Carlson said this week. “The City Council has a lot of authority but they have to use it.”

Bennett said at a November board meeting that the Castor administration has been listening to council members, which is why they did “the right thing” by splitting off the director’s position from the economic development administrator’s portfolio.

But having the redevelopment agency’s director report to council members instead of the mayor would inhibit the “teamwork effect” that leads to efficient administration, he said.

“What I’m trying to say without beating around the bush is: What problem are we trying to solve?” Bennett said.

RELATED: Tampa City Council moves toward hiring its own CRA director

Other council members are keeping their options open. Dingfelder, Gudes and Guido Maniscalco — who would make up the most likely coalition to support Carlson — all said they’re going to wait until the Community Redevelopment Agency board meeting to make up their minds.

The mayor’s office didn’t respond for comment Wednesday. The Community Redevelopment Agency board meets at 9 a.m. Thursday in council chambers at City Hall.