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Castor unveils roadmap for Tampa’s future. Hint: It’s exhaustive

A comprehensive plan of more than 100 pages is announced at Sulphur Springs Pool Complex by a mayor who said climate change and issues like affordable housing, transportation and racial equity can’t be dealt with in silos.
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor speaks at the Resilient Tampa press event on Thursday, May 27, 2021, at the Sulpher Springs Pool Complex in Tampa where Castor and the city’s sustainability and resilience officer Whit Remer unveiled a “road map” to city's future. The 58-pt plan seeks to address climate change, poverty, racism, affordable housing, transportation and employment opportunities for residents.
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor speaks at the Resilient Tampa press event on Thursday, May 27, 2021, at the Sulpher Springs Pool Complex in Tampa where Castor and the city’s sustainability and resilience officer Whit Remer unveiled a “road map” to city's future. The 58-pt plan seeks to address climate change, poverty, racism, affordable housing, transportation and employment opportunities for residents. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published May 27
Updated May 29

TAMPA — One thing you can say about Jane Castor’s roadmap to the future of America’s Next Great City: It’s not small ball.

Tampa’s mayor unveiled a door-stopper of a policy proposal Thursday at Sulphur Springs Pool Complex, promising to tackle long-standing problems like racial inequity, climate change, affordable housing and transportation as part of an exhaustive 100-plus-page, 58-point plan.

It’s two years in the making and, at least partially, a product of Castor-appointed resident task forces in most of those areas, assembled in the months after she became mayor in May 2019.

Castor said the plan, which attempts to link the missing dots of previous attempts at urban renewal, are “crucial” to the city’s future.

City Council will have to approve some bullet points. Others could be seen as aspirational.

Whit Remer, the city’s chief sustainability and resiliency officer, said the city needs to get on board with the blueprint for helping storm-surge and flood-prone Tampa become better able to deal with climate change in the years ahead.

The coronavirus pandemic didn’t much slow putting finishing touches on the plan, but it did allow city officials to incorporate the effects of the disruption into their plans. As did last summer’s protests, prompted by the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, he said.

“We were able to capture all that,” Remer said.

A TECO official attended the event. On Wednesday, Remer said the city can’t hope to achieve its goals of 100 percent clean energy (or no new net carbon emissions) if the powerful utility doesn’t keep its end of the bargain.

“We cannot achieve 100 percent sustainability without TECO,” Remer told the Tampa Bay Times on Wednesday.

Castor detailed the plan at a news conference at the iconic Sulphur Springs, once a vibrant swimming spot, now brackish and closed to bathers.

The troubled springs are a fitting symbol for the woes afflicting the city’s aging infrastructure.

The city’s focus on repairing its aging water and wastewater pipes, a nearly $3 billion job over 20 years to be financed by a utility rate hike approved by council members in 2019, will yield dividends across the city, including Sulphur Springs, a North Tampa neighborhood beset by hard times in recent decades, Castor has said.

Over the past year, the Sierra Club has lobbied Castor to commit to 100 percent clean energy by 2030, a request that the mayor has resisted. Aide Marley Wilkes and Remer said Wednesday that the city wants to proceed as quickly as possible, but doesn’t think promising a date of completion is necessary.

“It’s not a hard and fast deadline,” Remer said. “If it’s 2035, great. If it’s 2030, even better.”

Related: At Castor's urging, Citro drops clean energy push

Other cities, which have committed to deadlines have had to revise their plans, said Wilkes, because “they were too aggressive.”

St. Petersburg agreed in 2017, during Mayor Rick Kriseman’s reelection campaign, to meeting 100 percent clean energy goals by 2035.

Related: Is Tampa trailing St. Pete in efforts to tackle climate change?

Remer said Tampa, a larger city with significant industrial operations, has a different task.

“I’m not just going to commit to it because it’s the cool thing to do,” he said.

So far, the city has spent $31,000 on the plan. Private donations, including from the Tampa Bay Rays, Mosaic, TECO, Third Lake have brought in $125,000, according to Wilkes.

Castor held her news conference at the same time that City Council members were hearing testimony about the city’s long-standing plans to convert tens of millions of gallons of highly-treated wastewater into drinking water.

Some City Council members, including Bill Carlson, John Dingfelder and Chairman Orlando Gudes, have been skeptical of the benefits and safety of the plan. Their opposition forced Castor to pull it from her first budget in 2019.

The plan, now dubbed “PURE” by the city, isn’t included in the road map unveiled Thursday, Wilkes said.

Editor’s Note: The original version of the story incorrectly stated that Tampa voters approved a 2019 utility rate increase. City Council members voted to approve the hike.