Warning that the city "can't cut our way out of this ditch," Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn is right to focus on generating more revenue — not by increasing taxes but by attracting growth and increasing property values.
"We need to start moving dirt," he said in his State of the City speech on Tuesday.
The mayor offers more than a positive attitude. He has a plan for success and is pursuing it. He has streamlined permitting — whether submitted for a "backyard fence or 50-story tower" — and moved all construction services operations into one building to make it easier for those doing business with the city.
The background music and the overly rousing culmination of his outdoor speech were, to our taste, a bit much. The mayor definitely reverted at times to campaign mode. He lacked only a balloon drop.
But whatever its excesses, the relentlessly upbeat speech also made clear that Buckhorn is passionate about the city and wants everyone to share his passion.
More importantly, Buckhorn continues to make it clear that voters made a wise choice last year in electing the former city councilman. He is confronting tough economic times — a likely $30 million budget shortfall for the second year in a row — with a remarkably infectious optimism and can-do spirit.
The mayor pointedly scheduled the speech at the Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park to highlight his vision of making the Hillsborough River the center of an expanded downtown, one that includes the west side of the river.
His goal of revitalizing the major corridors leading to the urban core, as well as the neighborhoods that surround it, is appealing, though it will take a long-term commitment.
We agree with the mayor's emphasis on the need for a strategy aimed at improving the city long after he is out of office.
Buckhorn knows that the major changes he seeks must come through persistence and continued small victories.
Already a number of encouraging projects are in the works, including the transformation of the historic Waterworks Building on the river in Tampa Heights. It will become a restaurant, and another plan would make the long-vacant downtown federal courthouse a hotel.
Once known for his sharp political elbows, the mayor was quick to give credit to others, particularly past mayors, promote partnerships and invite community participation.
Not long ago, the city and Hillsborough County seemed constantly at odds. Buckhorn now meets regularly with county officials and says, "Those days of fighting over silly things are over."
Buckhorn, laughing off a heckler, emphasized the Republican National Convention in August will offer Tampa an opportunity to shine to the world.
The Democrat views it as a watershed event that could set the city on a course to new economic heights, where Tampa will be able to outcompete Charlotte, Atlanta, Austin and other business centers.
Other than praising the commitment of city workers who've endured painful cutbacks, the mayor did not devote a lot of time to the routine tasks of government, which ultimately will determine how residents view the administration.
He surely knows his aspirations will never be realized if he can't deliver basic services.
But Tampa is not going create a new spirit of enterprise and prosperity by obsessing about potholes. Buckhorn is pushing a vision of Tampa that transcends mere competence. You don't need the background music to like what he is selling.