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The week’s highs and lows | Editorial
Honoring a Tampa landmark, tourism gains and Laurel Lee’s stewardship on voting.
The two remaining houses from the Scrub, downtown Tampa’s pioneering Black neighborhood, purchased by the Tampa Housing Authority for restoration with the goal of creating affordable housing that is modern but pays tribute to the history of the area.
The two remaining houses from the Scrub, downtown Tampa’s pioneering Black neighborhood, purchased by the Tampa Housing Authority for restoration with the goal of creating affordable housing that is modern but pays tribute to the history of the area. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published May 14

Rebuilding Tampa’s Scrub. The Tampa Housing Authority is embarking on an exciting effort to rebuild part of the Scrub, the downtown Tampa neighborhood founded by pioneering Black families. The Scrub was built by freed enslaved people after the Civil War, and during its heyday, grew into a thriving business and entertainment district known as the Harlem of the South. Central Avenue hosted popular Black performers, from Ray Charles and Cab Calloway to Ella Fitzgerald. But in 1954, the housing authority razed a third of the Scrub and replaced it with Central Park Village, a monstrous public housing project that itself has since been replaced. In that sense, the authority’s involvement now is something of a full-circle. The agency is looking to restore the Scrub’s last remaining residential homes, on Scott Street, and then build affordable housing nearby that’s architecturally compatible. Ybor City developer Darryl Shaw helped make this happen, facilitating the sale of the properties to the housing authority. This project won’t erase what happened when the warehousing mentality overtook America’s postwar urban renewal. But it will be a defining historical marker for generations to come.

Pinellas and Hillsborough are setting records for tourist taxes collected.
Pinellas and Hillsborough are setting records for tourist taxes collected.

Bay area tourism. It’s been a good few months for area hotels, restaurants and tourist attractions. New figures reported this week show that both Hillsborough and Pinellas counties posted record-setting tourist tax collections for the month of March. Since Hillsborough began assessing the state-allowed maximum tourist tax rate of 6 percent in fall 2019, its peak month had been $4.9 million for the receipts collected in February 2020, just before the COVID-19 outbreak. But the first three months of 2022 are a far different story. Tourist tax collections reported by Visit Tampa Bay topped $5 million in February, $6 million in March and $7 million for April. That reflects a strong rebound, and it’s happening, too, in Pinellas. Monthly tourist tax collections there surpassed $13 million for the first time in March. According to Visit St. Pete/Clearwater, the county’s tourism promotion agency, daily room rates are up, as is hotel revenue. Occupancy rates in the region also are stronger than the statewide average. In short, people are coming here and spending money, and the trail of dollar bills extends beyond the hotel lobby. That’s great news and a reflection of Tampa Bay’s appeal as a destination.

Aerial photo of construction of Sumner High School near homes and new construction in the Southfork Lakes subdivision in 2020.
Aerial photo of construction of Sumner High School near homes and new construction in the Southfork Lakes subdivision in 2020. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

South Hillsborough growth. A new housing development that Hillsborough County approved this week could be a model for suburban development. On Tuesday, Hillsborough commissioners approved a 299-home project in Wimauma with an accompanying road plan that eases the way for new schools in fast-growing south county. School construction there has been stymied by the abundance of substandard, two-lane roads, and a state law that prohibits school districts from paying for off-site transportation projects. But the commission’s approval of Lennar’s bid to rezone 75 acres of agricultural land in Wimauma to allow the 299 homes came with a sweetener: Lennar agreed to build off-site road improvements to include 10-foot-wide bicycle and pedestrian paths on both sides of West Lake Drive for approximately 1.5 miles between State Road 674 and Bishop Road. That will make getting in and out of the campus safer for students. The home builder also will install a traffic signal and multiple turn lanes at the intersection of West Lake Drive and State Road 674. As the Tampa Bay Times’ C.T. Bowen reported, commissioners praised Lennar for agreeing to the roadwork and for planning a subdivision that promotes connectivity. This could be a model for public-private cooperation as south county’s population boom continues.

Florida secretary of state Laurel Lee.
Florida secretary of state Laurel Lee. [ STEVE CANNON | AP ]

Laurel Lee’s service. We can’t let Laurel Lee, who is stepping down Monday as Florida’s secretary of state, leave office before applauding her for a job well done. A former federal prosecutor and Hillsborough circuit judge, Lee was appointed secretary of state by Gov. Ron DeSantis in 2019. She is widely credited for helping county elections supervisors oversee a fair and secure election in 2020. While DeSantis and the Republican-led Legislature take pot shots at the voting process, Lee has been doing the hard work with local supervisors to bolster public faith in elections. Supervisors across the political divide praise her professionalism and communication skills. Lee is said to be considering a congressional race in eastern Hillsborough, where her husband, former state Sen. Tom Lee, a Republican from Thonotosassa, has strong political and personal ties. Whatever Lee’s endeavors, it’s good to see a former circuit judge from Hillsborough go to Tallahassee and leave a positive mark.

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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 Paul Tash. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.

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