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Saturday, Dec 20, 2014
South Tampa News

O’Neill: Selmon Connector shows government collaboration can work

BY JOE O’NEILL
Special correspondent

Published:

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As we know, among the things we have to continually strive to improve on around here is collaboration. As in Tampa with Hillsborough County as well as Pinellas with Hillsborough County. We’re all in this together.

The enlightened self-interest whole is always bigger than its parochial parts.

To wit: A (2010) mass transit/light rail vote that pragmatically passed in the city, where it’s most needed, but ideologically failed in the county, where it’s most criticized. Ride vs. deride: That can’t continue. Status quo is a non-starter for a major market lacking meaningful mass transit.

Any wonder, then, that Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn will be back in Tallahassee this spring — with a few municipal peers — to lobby for referendum flexibility. As in pitching the prospect of allowing major cities of a certain size to hold their own referenda.

While self-determination usually has unqualified appeal, the application here is still a frustrating long-shot. But getting reiteration face time among legislators can’t hurt. Meanwhile, city-county collaboration, reflecting city-county priorities and synergy, remains the best option.

We’ll see what kind of across-the-bay ripples result from the Greenlight Pinellas initiative.

Ditto for the need for Tampa and St. Petersburg to get in the same library, let alone on the same page, when it comes to working with the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays won’t remain as a regional asset if all they’re offered is the remainder of the Tropicana Field lease and an implicit threat to go after anyone from anywhere who would dare to “tamper,” however liberally defined.

The good news is that Rick Kriseman is now mayor of St. Petersburg. He and Buckhorn seem simpatico in a number of areas. The main Rays’ issues remain funding and logistics, but sans serious St. Pete-Tampa collaboration, all issues become even more onerous.

And, yes, a light-rail stop near a Rays’ facility would have to be part of any stadium scenario.

But if we wanted a blueprint for collaboration, we were just shown Exhibit A: the recently opened Interstate 4-Selmon Expressway Connector. Among those involved in various ways: the Florida Department of Transportation, the Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority and the governments of BOTH Tampa and Hillsborough County.

But let’s not forget a certain catalytic partner that is so easily vilified – our big, budget-perverting federal government. Nearly a quarter of this $425 million project was funded by the feds via the economy-stimulating American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Remember that “stimulus” act? Guaranteed that those who use and market the Port of Tampa as well as those looking to reclaim a chunk of Ybor City as business friendly will not forget. This is no elevated bridge to nowhere. This is a faster track to a better chance at improving our economic and quality-of-life future.

But it doesn’t happen without local, state and federal collaboration. It’s not, for example, all local funding for the Tampa Riverwalk. Recall that Buckhorn went to Washington to make the case for DOT help. And more than 40 percent of the $50 million USF Heart Institute is coming from the county and state.

Nor are the expansions of Bristol-Myers Squibb and USAA — or the addition of Copa Airlines — consummated in corporate isolation.

Come to think of it, nothing significant that we do around here gets done without purposeful collaboration. Think: Super Bowls, Bollywood Oscars, a Final Four, a Frozen Four, a National Championship Game in college football and a national political convention. The winning bids were made — and won — by the regional Tampa Bay community — from the usual suspects to key insiders.

We’re periodically reminded that when we have to make the case, and when we agree on common priorities and goals, we acquit ourselves well. The I-4 Connector is just the most recent example.

Now about that Rays’ stadium and modern mass transit ...

USF scores again

It was that kind of week for USF. No major groundbreaking. No paeans to the charter graduating class. No buzzer-beater basketball games. But there was this:

* An announcement that USF is now ranked 15th — tied with Johns Hopkins University — in the world in the number of U.S. patents granted to universities. It’s also tops in this state — by a lot. Further confirmation that USF is a major research force.

* In what seemed like an outtake from “October Sky,” members of USF’s 2-year-old science club, the USF Society of Aeronautics and Rocketry, garnered some major media attention when they successfully launched a 12-foot “BULListic” rocket. The hand-built rocket reached 8,000 feet. More SOAR launches — to ever-higher altitudes — are planned for upcoming semesters.

What was cool is that such an event was considered cool. An animated crowd had gathered at the Plant City pasture, cell-phone cameras at the ready. Loud cheers were elicited in recognition of success. And Dr. Manoug Manougian, SOAR’s faculty adviser, was beyond proud.

No, this wasn’t a pep rally for Coach Manougian and his star players. It was a different kind of team, but one that could be rallied around.

“It ain’t rocket science” was never less applicable.

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