With the New Year at hand, we offer a few of our hopes for 2014. As always, we hope for spectacularly good news for our region and the nation. But our hopes here are more modest: that some long-needed progress is made on issues that continue to vex our state and region.
With its Greenlight Pinellas initiative, Pinellas County could set an example for the region on how to address the gridlock and traffic chaos that undermines the region’s quality of life and economic prospects.
Pinellas voters will decide in November whether to pass a 1 percent sales tax that would fund a modern transportation network with extensive bus service and light rail. (The plan also calls for eliminating property taxes now used for buses.)
Residents of West Central Florida should have learned by now that road building alone will never ease our traffic woes. Beyond that, many of our residents need transportation options that do not require buying a car. This isn’t a concern solely for the poor or elderly. Many young professionals want to live in communities where they aren’t forced to own a car, and many residents are simply fatigued by the daily commute to work in their vehicles.
Leaders in Hillsborough, where a rail initiative failed in 2010, should learn from how the Pinellas initiative fares and also work closely with residents to develop a transportation strategy that will win their support while also meeting the needs of a changing marketplace.
A redeveloped Channelside retail-entertainment complex is a waterfront triumph waiting to happen, but progress has been painfully slow. Tampa Port officials said in September they were close to purchasing Channelside Bay Plaza from the Irish bank that owns the retail complex and clearing the legal entanglements that have hampered its revitalization. But the deal has yet to be consummated, and a lawsuit filed this month by a developer could regrettably cause even further delays. The community is the loser in all this in-fighting. Let’s hope the troubled complex can move beyond the courtroom this year.
Keeping the Tampa Bay Rays in this market should be a priority for leaders across the region, and there is some cause to hope for a breakthrough next year. Rick Kriseman, the new mayor in St. Petersburg, promises a fresh look at how to allow the team to consider stadium locations in Tampa without compromising the Tropicana Field lease. Attendance has been feeble in St. Petersburg despite the Rays’ winning teams. Downtown Tampa is in the center of the Rays’ fan base and would likely attract more fans.
Kriseman should acknowledge that reality and also recognize the city could benefit should the team move. The Tropicana site could offer St. Petersburg some powerful redevelopment opportunities.
The team’s ownership, for its part, needs to demonstrate a commitment to the area and a willingness to make financial contributions toward a new stadium.
St. Pete Pier
The iconic Pier along St. Petersburg’s waterfront looks awfully lonely these days. City leaders need to find a way to re-open the Pier’s platform to fishing, jogging, biking and walking. It should not be that difficult to decide whether to refurbish the existing structure or build something more in character with downtown than the modern Lens design voters soundly rejected.
Tens of thousands of homeowners in the Tampa Bay area face staggering rate hikes they cannot pay and that threaten the area’s fragile housing recovery. State lawmakers should approve a measure this spring that will give private insurers an incentive to enter the market with more affordable options. And federal lawmakers need to approve a measure that will delay rate increases while they fix the mess they created.
It wasn’t that long ago when leaders of both major political parties could be counted on to safeguard the natural wonders that underpin Florida’s appeal.
But recent years have seen a troubling retreat from stewardship in Tallahassee, with conservation funding slashed and pollution rules attacked. Somehow, many elected officials who preach fiscal stewardship failed to appreciate environmental stewardship, which prevents costly problems and preserves valuable resources.
There are some encouraging signs that Gov. Rick Scott and legislative leaders may reverse that trend next year, with lawmakers discussing a comprehensive review of state water problems, including the shameful pollution of springs. We hope this is more than talk. With its population growth back in high gear, Florida can ill afford to ignore the many threats to its water and other natural riches, including beaches and coastal waters.
Voters can take matters into their own hands by backing the Florida Water and Land Legacy Amendment, the constitutional ballot initiative that would restore land preservation funding to historic levels. It deserves the public’s support.