Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn has rousing down pat. In his spirited State of the City speech Tuesday, Buckhorn enthused about Tampa’s emergence as a dynamic economic powerhouse, one that attracts young urban professionals and the innovative enterprises that employ them.
Much of this surely was familiar to the hundreds who gathered for the talk at the historic Tampa Armature Works building on the Hillsborough River in Tampa Heights, where redevelopment is envisioned. (Characteristically, Buckhorn likes to highlight both the city’s history and prospects.)
Buckhorn has been unwavering in his desire to develop a dynamic urban core surrounded by revitalized neighborhoods. Previous State of the City speeches have covered some of the same ground.
But credit the mayor for pursuing his vision with consistency and purpose. And Buckhorn on Tuesday had plenty new to add. He forcefully championed a diverse transportation strategy that includes roads, buses and rail. He urged such a transit proposal be presented to voters by 2016. He also urged support for the Greenlight Pinellas initiative, which includes expanded bus service and a rail line.
Buckhorn long has been a transit proponent, but it has not seemed a priority. That may be changing. With continued urban residential growth and a new generation of workers not wedded to cars, Buckhorn knows more transportation options are essential for future success.
It also was revealing to see the Democratic mayor praise Republican Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican Legislature for funding an expansion of Tampa International Airport, where Director Joe Lopano and his team’s pursuit of international flights are very much a part of Buckhorn’s growth vision. When it comes to the city’s welfare, Buckhorn doesn’t play party politics.
Buckhorn is sometimes criticized for being more interested in urban development than in reviving neighborhoods, but he described how the city’s focus on crime fighting and code violations in impoverished Sulphur Springs had resulted in crime dropping by 20 percent, the installation of 400 new street lights and the removal of 150 tons of debris.
“How a neighborhood feels about itself depends a lot upon how it looks,” he said.
Buckhorn should be proud of his Sulphur Springs efforts, but there are other neighborhoods in need that would benefit from a similar approach, and the mayor should make sure they are not overlooked.
He also announced he would work out a contract to keep popular Police Chief Jane Castor, scheduled to retire in May, on the job for at least another year. It is a smart, if expected, move that will ensure stability at a police force that has overseen a crime drop of 69 percent during the past 11 years.
Tampa unquestionably has its share of challenges — the homeless, gridlock, lack of corporate headquarters, for a few. But Buckhorn is right. It does feel to be a city on the move.
Much of that is a result of market forces, demographics and other events beyond any politician’s control.
But our mayor deserves credit for pursuing his vision of economic success with singular energy, purpose and enthusiasm.
When Buckhorn needs to lead — such as fighting for a contested residential tower near the Straz Center — he does so. And when he needs to be the cheerleader in chief, as he was Tuesday, nobody does it better.