TAMPA — Mayor Jane Castor didn’t plan on 2020. But she said the city has survived and even thrived through a pandemic and a related economic downturn, as well as widespread protests against police brutality and racial injustice. And she’s bullish on the future of Florida’s third-largest city. She recently talked with the Tampa Bay Times about the year that’s almost done and the one that’s almost here. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: What plans did you have for the city this year that got scuttled by the pandemic?
Castor: I don’t know that anything was scuttled — possibly slowed a bit. But we continued on with all of our task forces on the significant areas of transportation, workforce development, affordable housing, sustainability and resiliency. We canceled a number of the large public events and festivities but really stuck to our overarching plans in those significant areas. And I would attribute that to the incredible team that we have, that they were able to pivot when necessary to focus on the pandemic.
Q: This has been a difficult year for restaurants and bars. Is there anything more you could have done?
Castor: You always want to do more than you actually accomplish. We reached out to the community, to our small businesses, to find out what assistance they needed. We stepped up One Tampa —both residents and business relief — before any relief programs were provided by the state and federal level. So I’m very proud of that. Our Lift Up Local plan, to allow small businesses and restaurants to open safely and to be able to host enough customers so that they could meet their bottom line. Another initiative was we focused on our development community to be able to keep major development projects moving along in a safe manner, which provided thousands of jobs throughout our community and allowed the development to continue, a lot of it accomplished by the Super Bowl, which was the goal.
Q: What will the legacy of the George Floyd protests be in Tampa?
Castor: We’ll be taking a fresh look at our criminal justice system, and also a realization of the burdens that we put on our first responders. And when I say we, I mean our community here in Tampa and nationwide, have continued through the years to underfund social services, like those dealing with mental health, addiction, pulling funds away from education, all of these areas that negatively impact us as a community. And when the issues associated with that lack of funding arise — just give it to the police to handle. There’s a realization that we have got to start funding these areas: education, health, mental health, homelessness, addiction. We’ve got to fund those areas so we can ensure it doesn’t get to the point that law enforcement has to intervene.
Q: Next year, the city will complete an extensive review of its land-use and zoning policies. How will the city find a balance between housing needs and resiliency?
Castor: We will have to factor in sustainability and resiliency into every decision that we make. A lot of those zoning and development decisions are made by City Council. Then we have to make difficult decisions that will not only allow the growth in our city, but also ensure that we don’t over develop or develop in high hazard areas that will leave future generations hamstrung. So, it is a balance.
Q: How do you think Tampa will have been permanently changed by 2020?
Castor: As far as workforce is concerned, there’s been a pendulum swing: just about every business that could has taken the opportunity to allow their team members to work from home. There’s a lot of benefits of a remote workforce, but there’s always also a downside to it. So I believe that will be one adjustment.
We are a very, very attractive region right now for a variety of reasons. We live in paradise; surrounded by water, great day to day, temperatures — we have great quality of life. We have low taxes, high skilled, high paying jobs. So I believe that we will recover much quicker than other areas.