Building a better East Tampa

Published September 13, 2007

There is a parallel reality in East Tampa. As Sunday's article by the Times' Janet Zink recounted, the government and private sector have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into this largely black and poor community, building homes, roads, businesses and major public works. Parts of East Tampa look better than they have in decades. The investment and new economic activity have helped stanch crime and the physical deterioration of entire city blocks. At the same time, East Tampa is still desperate for the basics - and residents are clinging to the same hopes they have had for years. The change now is that Mayor Pam Iorio has raised expectations. Meeting them will require a sustained commitment by this mayor, the next one and the City Council.

Iorio raised the profile of this neglected community by naming a development chief for East Tampa after her first election in 2003. In four years, hundreds of new, affordable housing units, new businesses and major roadway improvements have helped transform some 7.5 square miles. She also created a special district to reinvest taxes from growth in East Tampa back into its neighborhoods. This seed money was vital and a sign to investors that the city would be engaged. The city also cracked down on street-level drug dealing, illegal dumping, dilapidated housing and petty crimes such as public drinking that make neighborhoods less livable.

The challenge now will be keeping the momentum going as the real estate market cools and governments cut back spending. Officials are encouraged that East Tampa has retained a strong retail base. They also point out that its relatively inexpensive residential market will make East Tampa more competitive once real estate recovers. For now, the city needs to stick to the basics - enhance security, build sidewalks and parks, landscape the roadways and be creative in attracting new investment. Unlike building a museum or some other legacy project, raising living standards in East Tampa is not something a single mayor can do. This is a long-haul job that Iorio and the council should leave in better shape for their successors to build on.