Turning blight into a destination
Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist's "Innovation Destination" plan may be ambitious, even grandiose, but it offers a promising way to revive blighted neighborhoods in Tampa and Hillsborough County. He plans to discuss the proposal at Wednesday's commission meeting. Some areas within the community development district would be designated for tax increment financing, where any increases in property tax revenue are returned to the neighborhood for roads, drainage, street lights, police substations and other infrastructure needs. Crist says tax incentives and a variety of other mechanisms would be used to fund improvements, attract private investment, create jobs and stabilize neighborhoods. With USF at the heart of the zone, he envisions it being attractive to innovative enterprises.The concept faces considerable challenges and will demand collaboration among different governing bodies, but if it functions as Crist predicts, it would bring investment and renewal to blighted neighborhoods. And as Crist points out, these impoverished neighborhoods, left to deteriorate, ultimately contaminate surrounding communities. The proposed boundaries would run from Sligh Avenue in Tampa to the apex of I-75 and I-275. Florida Avenue would be the western border and I-75 mostly the eastern border. The targeted area would include Sulphur Springs, New Tampa, Temple Terrace and the area around the University of South Florida, including the troubled neighborhood commonly known as Suitcase City. It seems a cumbersomely large area, but Crist says it allows the needs of adjacent communities to be coordinated. He points out that crime in northeast Tampa threatens Temple Terrace; Suitcase City's problems undermine neighborhoods to the north. "One area affects another," he says. "This was a way to look at things holistically." Guiding policy would be elected officials from Tampa, Temple Terrace and Hillsborough County and representatives of the affected communities. Crist stresses citizens must be involved to help make decisions at every level. Crist points to the University Area Community Development Corp., which works on improvements in the Suitcase City area, as an example of a board that represents a community's diverse interests. The Innovation Destination plan builds, as Crist readily acknowledges, on the Tampa Innovation Alliance formed by the University of South Florida, Busch Gardens, the Moffitt Cancer Center and Florida Hospital Tampa. The alliance, formed last year, seeks to refurbish the now unsightly roads leading to the university, the hospitals and the theme park. The group also wants to rebrand the North Tampa area. The Innovation Destination plan would expand the goal to revitalizing neighborhoods throughout north Hillsborough. If that's accomplished, rebranding will take care of itself. There are a lot of moving parts to this and exceptional intergovernmental cooperation would be required, but Crist's creative approach could help bring economic development to persistently troubled neighborhoods. It merits serious analysis and discussion.