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Mayors talk growth, outgrowths

The leaders of Clearwater, Tampa and St. Petersburg look at key issues affecting their cities' futures.

Published January 28, 2005

[Times photo: Willie Allen Jr.]
Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard, left, talks about issues facing his city including a need for an interstate highway. Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio and Rick Baker, mayor of St. Petersburg, listen.

ST. PETERSBURG - The first question was easy.

At a conference Thursday with about 200 Tampa Bay area real estate developers and property managers, the mayors of Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater were asked to outline their cities' most recent land development projects.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker cited high-rise condos and Midtown redevelopment. Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard noted the Beach Walk project and completion of the Memorial Causeway bridge. And Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio pointed to the Tampa Museum of Art and Riverwalk projects.

But when asked what was holding growth and development back in their cities, the mayors took different tacks. Hibbard said a top priority was linking his city to an interstate, "because building more lanes on your highways is like curing obesity by losing your belt."

Baker said affordable housing was among his most pressing issues "because our city is completely built out."

But Iorio suggested a concern that affects both Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. Faced with rampant growth, Iorio said the entire bay area has to focus more on transportation.

"We don't put enough dollars into it, and we don't have a vision for it," Iorio said. "That's got to change."

Iorio said she envisions a mass transit link from Tampa to St. Petersburg. "We should look at a light rail or monorail system to link our two major cities," Iorio said. "Because unless we lay the ground work now, we'll really stifle economic growth in the future.

"We need to find a way to make that happen."

Baker agreed that there are mass transportation issues, but said "I don't believe we're going to fund it (a rail link) while we're in office."

The mayors seemed to agree on the lack of merits of a proposed constitutional amendment sponsored by a grass roots group, Florida Hometown Democracy, that would require voter approval for any changes to growth plans, including the building of new homes, roads and shopping malls.

The power now rests with city and county governments, which are required by law to develop detailed plans to manage growth.

"It's bad law," Hibbard said. "There are ample opportunities for citizens to speak out. How can we expect our citizens to do the homework (on all the projects)?"

But Iorio took a more measured tone. "We already have the representative system," she acknowledged. "But this is an outgrowth of people unhappy with government not responding to their needs. It's the responsibility of government to keep up."

In the end, all three mayors asked developers for help in finding money for revitalizing low-income areas in return for city governments that would be more open, flexible and streamlined.

"I asked for help in the Midtown area," Baker said, "and I'm thrilled with the response we've gotten."

[Last modified January 28, 2005, 00:20:16]

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