By Matt Wiley
“Suitcase City,” as many call it, or the area to the west of the Tampa campus of the University of South Florida (USF) Tampa campus and just south of Tampa Palms, is not the area most would imagine would have a great amount of economic opportunity. It is no secret that the USF area has long been one of the most poverty-stricken and crime-filled in Tampa.
However, imagine what would happen if the area were to be revitalized and redeveloped, with economic opportunities and jobs for the area’s unemployed. This is the vision of District 2 (which includes all of New Tampa) Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist — what he is calling an “Innovation Destination.”
On June 11, Commissioner Crist distributed three maps to members of the New Tampa Chamber of Commerce before speaking at their monthly meeting at the Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites in New Tampa. These maps included data collected from the last federal census for the USF campus and the areas surrounding it as far north as New Tampa, and as far south as Sligh Ave., between I-75 and I-275. The statistics in these maps included unemployment, crime rates and median household income for the University area, New Tampa, Temple Terrace and Sulphur Springs.
According to the data collected, Crist and his staff could see where the three “clear and evident pockets of need” are located: Suitcase City, South Lutz (just north of USF) and the area south of Fowler Ave. between I-75 and I-275, including Sulphur Springs.
“They had crime, poverty and unemployment as negative social indicators at the level of some ‘third world’ countries,” said Crist as he addressed the Chamber. “And it’s right up by USF and New Tampa.”
By redeveloping this area, he says, everyone benefits. He calls this massive redevelopment district an “Innovation Destination.” The name is an identity that each section of the district (the USF area, South Lutz, Sulfur Springs, Temple Terrace and New Tampa) can incorporate into its own specific brand.
The Man With The Plan
Another issue Crist considered when coming up with his plan to revitalize the area was “brownfields,” or environmentally sensitive or polluted areas. For example, an abandoned gas station would be considered a “brownfield,” or any other facility that may have used chemicals that could potentially have polluted the soil beneath them.
Crist said that there are tax credits available to counties and municipalities that go back and work with the private sector to reclaim those areas, making them safe again for the environment.
“These tax credits are incredibly important for when we start looking at how we’re going to attract new business opportunities (to the county),” he said. “We need to look at what resources we have to work with — and then capitalize on them.”
These tax credits are key, he says, to attracting more economic development. “These companies are going to be looking for space, a viable work force, the infrastructure to sustain it and a good quality of life,” Crist told the Chamber. “We’re going to be competing against other areas in this state and other states. We want to make sure that we are offering the very best opportunity possible to woo their jobs and economic development to our region.”
The I-75 corridor, he says, is full of economic opportunities that could bring revenue to the area to help improve the quality of life for its residents and stabilize the workforce, two of the most influential factors these companies should consider.
Starting south of Busch Blvd. off I-75, Tampa International Airport (TIA) is looking to expand the Tampa Executive Airport, which will attract shopping, hotels and new jobs. Further north, at Busch Blvd., there is room for commercial growth and an interchange off I-75, providing an exit directly onto Busch Blvd. and better access to current economic engines for the area, such as Busch Gardens.
Continuing north, both Fowler and Fletcher Aves. already have economic infrastructure in place in the form of Telecom Park, where the private sector has already set up shop with some big-name companies such as Verizon and Genesis Financial Management.
But, Crist said, the area between the BBD interchange and the New Tampa Gateway Bridge, which is on schedule to be completed by May 2013, is where the biggest opportunity lies to attract big businesses.
“The area already has financial and insurance institutions such as USAA,” he explained. “That could be, and should be, a huge portion of this redevelopment district. There is available land and the infrastructure is there. So, any new research and development that we can bring in, that area is prime for it, and it will help sustain the small businesses along BBD.”
Crist continually emphasized the importance of redeveloping the area around USF and the impact it would have on New Tampa.
“New Tampa has a tremendous amount of value to the redevelopment of the University area because of the direct, positive impact that (redevelopment) will have on New Tampa,” he said. “And, New Tampa is important to the University area because so many New Tampa residents work at, or around, the University.”
Crist also said that, according to the unemployment map, a large percentage of New Tampa residents work in those target areas for redevelopment, while the residents of the target areas either don’t work or work somewhere else in the county where they can find employment, mostly “blue-collar” work. The problem, he said, is that most of the jobs at or around USF are technically advanced.
“We’ve got to attract more businesses that have both kinds of jobs and employment opportunities to help sustain the people who live in (the redevelopment area) and people who come into the area to work, as well,” he explained. “If anything new comes to the area, and the value of the property grows, then the taxes that are normally generated from that growth, instead of going into the general budget, get reallocated back into that specific target area for reinvestment.”
Imagine New Tampa and the University area filled with economic growth and new job opportunities, attracting large companies that supply thousands of jobs to the surrounding area. By redeveloping blighted areas like “Suitcase City” and creating a positive impact, Commissioner Crist’s vision to make New Tampa the linchpin of this planned “Innovation Destination” could become a reality.
Editor’s note – Commissioner Crist is running for reelection this year, but he spoke to the Chamber only about the redevelopment plan outlined in this story. As always, we invite your comments in opposition to (or support of) any political candidate. We also invite your comments regarding Comm. Crist’s redevelopment plan itself to EditorialDept@ NTNeighborhoodNews.com. Or, post your comments on our website at NTNeighborhoodNews.com.