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Monday, Dec 22, 2014

Otto: State-of-the-city speech a good time to take our pulse

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On Tuesday the mayor will make his third “state-of-the-city” speech, this time at the old Tampa Armature Works by the Hillsborough River. He has taken to holding these things in places he would like to see developed or where things are already happening. The Armature Works, which became known as the “trolley barn,” has more recently been the gathering place for a bourbon tasting and similar events.

He could find reason to raise a glass or two on Tuesday, even if it will be 10:30 in the morning. On a spring morning Tampa looks pretty good.

The final stages of the Riverwalk are coming to reality, with that strip down by the Armature building to its current ending at the new Waterworks Park and the anticipated Ulele Restaurant.

Elsewhere, construction is returning as delayed projects from boutique hotels to the massive Encore project continue, and plans for future development are considerable.

The mayor and his business friends have been all over the planet spreading the news about America’s other city by the bay, and next month we should get an enormous splash with Bollywood coming to town.

Crime is down, employment is better and so far the Bucs aren’t demanding a new stadium.

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It’s not likely that you are going to hear too many — if any — negatives about the city or what direction it is taking.

But there are rumblings and there are issues, and once you get beyond the platitudes and the justifiable back patting, this would be a good time to look at some fundamental issues looming around here.

Other than being mistakenly called “Tampa Bay’’ around the country, the city’s larger problem may be that it sits squarely inside Hillsborough County. More than a million residents and who knows how many businesses have to deal with two governments, which are often redundant and hardly cost-effective.

On Thursday, Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill showed up in front of the Tampa City Council to talk about TFED. No, I don’t recall what it means either — something to do with building transit where there is economic development, I think — and the council members had that deer-in-the-headlights look as Merrill rambled on about yet one more group trying to tackle the problems of transportation here.

Several of the council members complained the last thing we need is another study on transportation and that most of the committees and groups studying the issues are the same people who keep going to the same meetings.

Part of the problem is the redundancy, and the idea of consolidating services, departments or anything is as much a dirty word today as it was 40 years ago. It’s an issue that is going to be like one of those sores that never quite go away.

The city wants good growth, but it has to live with a county that worships sprawl and likes to pretend the three cities inside its borders aren’t really there. You wouldn’t go so far as to suggest Tampa is Hillsborough County’s Crimea, but you get the idea.

So the mayor will have his moment Tuesday, and his city looks pretty good on the surface.

It’s those fens and bogs of the county, as Lee Drury De Cesare used to say, that are going to sink the city into mediocrity.

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