Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn painted a picture of a growing city with new challenges during his final State of the City address as mayor on Friday morning.
He began his speech acknowledging the difficulties the city has faced in the past year, namely Hurricane Irma and the Seminole Height serial killings. But Buckhorn said Tampa has had a development boom during his two terms in office and property tax revenues have finally rebounded to pre-recession levels.
He also highlighted Tampa’s high job growth rates, particularly in the technology sector.
“From Sulphur Springs to Seminole Heights, there is a pride in what Tampa is becoming,” he said. “We are becoming everything we aspired to be … People are staying and living here, they aren’t moving to Charlotte and Austin.”
The mayor praised the redevelopment of the West Tampa neighborhood, speaking on stage at the newly renovated Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park on the west bank of the Hillsborough River.
He said he has left it up to the next mayor to tackle Tampa’s biggest challenge: a lack of public transportation.
"Time and time again, when asked what is the most pressing issue facing our community, our resident say transportation and traffic congestion,” he said. “We have failed to provide solutions for too long."
There are a number of initiatives that won't be completed until after the term-limited mayor leaves office in April 2019. He said the city is making the largest investment in its history on repairing and replacing storm-water infrastructure.
It’s also creating a new source of highly treated water for drinking and bathing, known as Tampa Augmentation Project or TAP.
“TAP can provide millions of gallons of water to the city and to the region and relieve pressure on ground water sources,” he said. “When we are finished TAP will be a model for the nation."
Buckhorn also used his speech to rail against what he sees as an attack on local rule by the Republican-controlled state Legislature.
“During campaign season they rode around talking about their conservative principles, how government closest to the people is the best government, well guess who the hell that is? That's us,” he said.
Buckhorn said the state has tried to prevent the city from protecting its tree canopy, defending gay rights and passing new restrictions on gun ownership.
Following his speech, Buckhorn told reporters he would be involved in the mayoral race already underway, but refused to endorse a candidate. Developer and Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, who attended the speech, said he would not endorse a candidate during the race.