October 2, 2023

2020 Economic Outlook

Southwest Florida - Red tide, higher ed, transportation

Art Levy | 12/26/2019

Tampa / Hillsborough County

Issues ...

  • Transportation Tax: In 2018, Hillsborough County voters approved a one-cent sales tax to fund transportation improvements. The tax is expected to raise $280 million a year for road projects, with some of the money targeted to public transit and bike and pedestrian trails. But the tax has yet to gain traction amid legal challenges from opponents — including Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White — who say the tax is unconstitutional because it takes decision-making power away from the county commission. As the county awaits a final decision from the Florida Supreme Court, Tampa commuters got some good news about one of the city’s worst junctions, the maze of congested roads and ramps that connect the Howard Frankland Bridge, I-275, West Shore Boulevard, Tampa International Airport and the Veterans Expressway. Gov. Ron DeSantis committed $1.4 billion in state funds to help rebuild the West Shore interchange area.
  • New Leadership: In her first year on the job, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor has created citizen advisory teams to help her address some of the city’s biggest challenges, including transportation, affordable housing, workforce development, sustainability and streamlining the city’s permitting process. The teams are made up of city staff as well as residents and illustrate Castor’s collaborative leadership style. Meanwhile, Tampa’s city council passed a hike in water and sewer rates that will generate some $2.9 billion to help the city pay for water and sewer line improvements.
  • Consolidating USF: Last summer, after replacing President Judy Genshaft, Steve Currall began creating a plan to consolidate the university’s three campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Sarasota/Manatee. After an initial proposal to shift much of the decision-making power to the main campus in Tampa was met with resistance from both students and faculty, Currall came up with a more popular proposal, allowing the regional chancellors of each campus to continue to oversee academic, budget and hiring decisions. Talks continue, with the final consolidation plan scheduled to be completed by this summer.

St. Petersburg / Pinellas County

Scott Curtis

  • Rays Win and Lose: Last season, the Tampa Bay Rays won 96 games, finishing second in the American League east division. All in all, it was a good year for a team with Major League Baseball’s lowest payroll of $53.5 million. Off the field, it’s a different story for the Rays, who drew only 1.1 million to St. Petersburg’s Tropicana Field, which ranked second-to-last in baseball, beating only the Miami Marlins’ 811,302. Mayor Rick Kriseman has rejected a radical plan by the Rays to split the home season between St. Petersburg and Montreal.
  • Ownership Watch: The future of Tech Data, a technology buyer and reseller that employs 2,000 people in Pinellas County and 14,000 worldwide, should come into better focus this year. The company, which is Florida’s second-largest and is ranked 88th on the Fortune 500 list of the nation’s biggest public companies, has a $6-billion buyout offer from Apollo Global Management, a private equity firm based in New York. Neither side will comment. Meanwhile, across the bay, Tampa-based Bloomin’ Brands, which operates Outback Steakhouse, Carrabba’s and other restaurant chains, announced that it’s looking into putting itself up for sale.
  • Land Grab: The efforts to transform Clearwater’s sleepy downtown into a lively destination is making little progress. The city’s Imagine Clearwater plan, which would bring more restaurants, retail and a 4,000-seat amphitheater, envisions a walkable shopping and entertainment district with water views, but the plan is up against the reality that the Church of Scientology owns much of the area. During the last three years, in fact, members of the church — often at odds with city officials — have spent $103 million buying downtown real estate. Of 33 buildings along Cleveland Street, downtown’s main drag, 22 are connected to Scientologists.

Bradenton / Sarasota

Issues ...

  • Sarasota Bay: While they nixed a $92-million expansion plan for Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, saying it was out of scale with the surrounding neighborhood, Sarasota officials have embraced another plan that aims to transform Sarasota’s bayfront, just a few miles away from Selby. Work is underway on The Bay, located west of Tamiami Trail along Sarasota Bay and by the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall. Plans call for waterfront walking trails, kayak launches, a natural shoreline, park space and a curving boardwalk built over Sarasota Bay.
  • Public Safety: In Manatee County, there were 601 opioid overdoses and 61 deaths during the first 10 months of last year, more than twice as many deaths compared to the same period in 2018. Meanwhile, opioid overdoses are up 20% in Sarasota county, according to the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Department.

Fort Myers / Naples

Issues ...

  • Red Tide Watch: After suffering through the last major outbreak of red tide, which lasted more than a year, Southwest Florida is on red tide watch again, as high concentrations of the fish-killing algae bloom were measured off Collier and Lee counties last fall.
  • Higher Ed: Florida Gulf Coast University is moving toward choosing a new executive vice president and provost, the university’s top academic officer. FGCU has had an interim provost since 2017 — James L. Llorens has the job now — but the 15,000-student university plans to hire a permanent provost by this summer. Ron Toll, who had been provost for eight years, was removed from the job three months after Mike Martin become FGCU’s president in 2017. Martin replaced former President Wilson Bradshaw, who retired. Martin says the next provost will play an important role, since the executive will likely be on the job after Martin, who is 72, retires.

    Tags: Southwest, Economic Outlook, Feature

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