A Tampa museum and the Florida Legislature make the week’s list of highs and lows | Editorial
Museum and migrant education on course but immediate challenges for the Legislature
This rendering depicts the planned auditorium at the Tampa Museum of Art.
This rendering depicts the planned auditorium at the Tampa Museum of Art. [ Courtesy of Weiss/Manfredi ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Nov. 13, 2021

Tampa museum expands. The expansion plans for the Tampa Museum of Art are exciting for the museum and its surroundings alike. With the expansion, expected to be completed in 2024, the museum’s total area will grow from 69,000 to 125,000 square feet, including new space for exhibitions, events and educational programs, and a revamped entrance and lobby. These improvements will enable the museum to keep pace with downtown and the times, broadening its appeal as a meeting place and cultural destination. And the Tampa Bay Times reported this week that more than 80 percent of the $80 million budget will be privately funded by the museum trustees and directors and by donations from the community. That alone is a testament to the museum’s history of giving back. Officials need to ensure that the work won’t encroach on the Riverwalk. Refurbishing the Cass Street approach is welcome and overdue. But this cannot be an excuse to pollute Curtis Hixon Park with more pavers and hard material. In other words, there needs to be a balance here between economics and aesthetics.

Manatees are starving. Any day now, the already record number of Florida manatees reported dead this year will surpass 1,000. The toll may be mind-boggling, but the reasons behind it are not. As the Times explained this week, the vast majority of deaths occurred at the beginning of this year, during the winter months, when water temperatures dropped. Manatees clustered in traditional wintering grounds in the Indian River Lagoon, gaining warmth from the discharge at a power plant in Brevard County. But the manatees, who are vegetarians, struggled to find food. Algal blooms, fueled by years of pollution from leaky septic tanks, sewer lines and fertilizer runoff, have devastated their habitats, wiping out seagrass and forcing manatees to adapt by struggling to consume other food sources. There have been 997 manatee deaths reported through Nov. 5, according to the latest Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission data; updated figures are expected Wednesday. This disaster didn’t happen overnight, and the question is: What does Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Legislature intend to do about it? Simply preside over another record deadly year?

Hillsborough’s migrant program. For migrant families, who are constantly on the road following the crop, a traditional education can be an elusive luxury. That’s why the Migrant Education Program, which the Tampa Bay Times highlighted this week, is so critical to the economy and fabric of Florida. The federally funded initiative, launched nationwide in 1966 to help migrant children stay on the path to a high school degree, is helping 2,650 students in Hillsborough this year, and along with the school districts in Miami-Dade, Polk and Palm Beach counties, is helping to serve a migrant population estimated at up to 200,000 people. The program helps students even as they work with their families picking strawberries, tomatoes and other produce. The ability of teens to juggle these responsibilities is nothing short of incredible, and counselors and teachers work to track these students and help them assimilate as their families move from place to place. These children not only play a critical part in Florida’s economy; they are part of Florida’s future. The Hillsborough School District should be proud of contributing to such a worthy effort that benefits its own back yard.

Legislature bigfoots again. The pandemic underscored how easily some people could work from home. But as the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported this week, a new Florida law that encourages home-based businesses is drawing concern over whether anything goes. That fear arose after the owner of an ammunition-supply company filed paperwork to start a business from his residence in Lauderdale Lakes. City officials said they likely couldn’t stop the enterprise from moving forward, but they pleaded for clarity from Tallahassee. What’s next, many feared — a strip club? A tattoo parlor? A retail outlet? In the case of the ammo dealer, he has backed out, and his plans, anyway, were to resell the supplies online. But this is a good example of the real-life consequences of a poorly considered statute. House Bill 403 does offer protections for homeowner associations, and it bars home-based businesses from creating parking, environmental and other impacts normally associated with commercial operations. But there’s still way too much leeway in the law for abuse. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Mike Giallombardo, R-Cape Coral, and a co-sponsor from the Tampa Bay area, Republican Rep. Mike Beltran of Lithia, should address these concerns in the coming legislative session. This is Tallahassee again thinking it knows better than local government.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Paul Tash. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.


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