TAMPA — After 20 years at the helm of the East Tampa Business and Civic Association, Dianne Hart knows she still has a lot to learn.
So Hart signed up for Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s Neighborhood University, a 2011 campaign promise that he’ll officially set in motion Sept. 10.
Felicia Romano will be at that first meeting. The new president of the year-old Ybor Heights neighborhood association, Romano is working to build connections among her neighbors northeast of Ybor City and between them and city officials.
“I don’t want to have police profiling in my neighborhood,” said the former Miami Beach resident. “But I do want to have their support. I want to be that bridge between what we dream of and what we can really can do.”
When Buckhorn’s office put out a call for the first class, 151 people applied.
“We were expecting the class to be 25 to 30,” Buckhorn said.
The entire group was split into two classes of about 75 people each. The classes will meet every two weeks through February at locations around Tampa.
Buckhorn said the goal is to introduce a new generation of neighborhood leaders to the inner workings of the city.
Meantime, the program’s first class includes a number of people like Hart – veteran neighborhood leaders looking to brush up on their knowledge.
“He’s going to be talking to the choir for a couple years,” said Jerry Frankhouser, president of THAN – Tampa Homeowners, an Association of Neighborhoods – an umbrella group for the city’s neighborhood associations
Frankhouser is the founder and president of Bayside West Neighborhood Association in South Tampa. The challenge for his association and others, he said, is getting people interested in the first place.
Frankhouser said he’d like to learn more about recruiting people to help out.
Buckhorn’s university has that covered, too. One session focuses on building relationships and recruiting new leaders. Another deals with communicating through social media.
“There are some young people in the neighborhood who are interested in various things,” Frankhouser said. “They might be primed to go to this.”
The program’s first class also includes Will Cantrell, who lives in Rocky Point, an area without a neighborhood association.
“What I’m hoping to do is really get a better handle on the Tampa community as a whole and its neighborhoods individually,” said Cantrell, who moved from Atlanta last year.
Will Buckhorn’s program inspire Cantrell to start a Rocky Point neighborhood association?
Cantrell’s not sure.
Rocky Point is dominated by apartment-dwellers and restaurants.
“Obviously that makes it not the most suitable place for a neighborhood association,” Cantrell said. “But during the course of this university, that’s something I’ll at least have in the back of my mind.”
Buckhorn said if the program inspires people like Cantrell to create new neighborhood associations, that’s fine with him.
“From my perspective, more is better,” he said.
Buckhorn said the number of Tampa neighborhood associations has tripled in the 30 years since he moved here.
“What we want out of this is a good bond between these neighborhood leaders,” Buckhorn said. “Because, it’s not about my neighborhood. It’s about our city.”