TAMPA — For two hours Thursday, City Council members listened to what was described as a historic infrastructure investment in city buildings, a $108 million complex in East Tampa that officials anticipate will provide an economic jolt to struggling East Tampa neighborhoods.
In the end, they were persuaded by Mayor Jane Castor’s administration that the big-ticket item was worth it, voting unanimously to approve construction contract. The city hopes to have construction start in January.
Council member Joseph Citro had to leave the meeting before the afternoon vote, but said before leaving he would vote yes on the project and a related measure authorizing the bonds.
Council member John Dingfelder asked for administration officials to report back with responses to his requests to put more solar panels on the roofs of the buildings. He also wants answers on how much unions will be involved in the construction, saying they have been supportive of Mayor Jane Castor and council members.
Chairman Orlando Gudes said residents near the complex will be watching closely to see if the city is serious about leading an effort to revitalize the adjoining neighborhoods.
For context, here’s what the Tampa Bay Times reported earlier this week:
On Tuesday, heavy construction equipment and trucks whirred in the background at the 11-acre site on 2515 E. Hanna Avenue, city officials painted a picture of a new government investment in a struggling area.
A massive City Center — slated to open in spring 2023 — would concentrate many of Tampa’s governmental functions in one space. which city officials hope would spur economic investment in the predominantly Black area, they said at a news conference at the construction site.
They also hope it will create better collaboration between city staff and between city employees and residents.
The city’s investment isn’t just the $108 million total cost of the project, which represents a generational investment in city infrastructure. Building a municipal services center also brings city services closer to residents who need them, said Sal Ruggiero, the city’s deputy administrator of infrastructure.
The 161,000-square-foot, three-story building will house hundreds of city workers from more than a dozen city departments. A 500-car parking garage will also be built. Currently, many of those workers are scattered across the city in aging facilities.
But the City Center won’t house any police officers. Nor will they be stationed nearby, as was originally envisioned.
Back in March, when the idea first was presented to City Council, an adjacent new headquarters for the police department was discussed as an option. But that idea was dropped by the administration two weeks later.
One of Mayor Jane Castor’s 2019 campaign pledges was to bring city government from downtown into the neighborhoods, Ruggiero said.
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East Tampa residents had raised concerns about being able to obtain city services or even learning about city contracts going to bid. The City Center, 2515 E. Hanna Ave., will help bridge that gap.
“We listened and we’re doing it. That’s important,” Ruggiero said.
Althea Wynne, who is active in the nearby Live Oaks Square neighborhood association, said residents felt they are being heard.
“The city included us,” Wynne said.
She said planned green space outside the building and community meeting space planned within it pleased residents, who already were talking about a new place to walk their dogs.
In March, city officials presented a plan that involved land sales of the downtown police headquarters and additional city property on Spruce Street. Those land sales are still pending, Ruggiero said, but the project is moving forward.
“We need to get focused on this first, “ he said.