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Growth in East Tampa; slow times for charities

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By ERNEST HOOPER, Times Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times
published April 10, 2003

Pam Iorio's hiring of Ed Johnson as head of her new East Tampa Development & Community Lending department indicates economic revitalization of that area will be a priority in her administration.

Yet what will be the role, if any, of the company that is about to become one of the blighted area's biggest employers?

Anyone who has driven east on Interstate 4 has seen the 12-story, 250-room Hard Rock Hotel and Casino rising on Seminole Tribe reservation property, which sits on the fringe of East Tampa. For many local residents, it is just a short bus ride down Hillsborough Avenue.

Set to open in spring of next year, the hotel/casino is expected to employ 2,500 people. Casino officials say they will spend more than $35-million annually for goods and services in our county.

Yet in other ways, the economic impact will be limited. Because the tribe is a sovereign nation, the hotel/casino complex was exempt from impact fee requirements, not to mention comprehensive site planning, citizen input or local government oversight.

Publicly, the tribe is saying it's very interested in being a part of the community. Sovereignty, however, means the tribe doesn't have to foster good relationships with city or county entities, or even its neighbors. Residents of the adjacent East Lake subdivision have complained in the past that the tribe has not been overly concerned with their complaints.

For her part, Iorio has said she doesn't want East Tampa to be defined by the casino. But at some point the casino's impact may be impossible to ignore.

* * *

It's been argued that faith-based initiatives and private sector contributions can help fill the void created by impending state budget cuts. Yet a number of Tampa's most established charities are struggling to respond.

The Salvation Army of Hillsborough County will suspend a portion of its daily meal program due to a decline in donations. More than 400 homeless people accustomed to being fed in the Army facility at 1603 N Florida will have to look elsewhere for meals after May 4.

"It's an extremely difficult situation for us because it's something we've been doing quite a while," general manager Steve Vick said.

Since September 2001, the needs of the county's less fortunate have increased, while the donations have declined.

In difficult economic times, social services and charities become more important -- not less. I can only hope this realization reaches Tallahassee lawmakers.

* * *

Ken Lawson, who has spent the last two years working as assistant secretary of the treasury in Washington, is back at the U.S. Attorney's office in Tampa. Lawson worked as a federal prosecutor for seven years before accepting the appointment from President Bush.

Now that he's back, I think we may start seeing more of him in the local community.

* * *

You know, in sports, "wait 'til next year" is a cliched statement filled with hope for the future. In Tallahassee, where trust funds are being raided for other purposes, it's said with gloom.

* * *

That's all I'm saying.

-- Ernest Hooper can be reached at 226-3406 or .

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