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Tampa Mayor Candidates 2019: Mike Suarez

Mike Suarez

WUSF Public Media  asked all seven candidates for Tampa Mayor to answer a questionnaire outlining their stands on some of the major issues facing the city.

The questions focused on critical issues including transportation, affordable housing, growth, the attraction of high-paying tech jobs. They also were asked about their visions.

Here's the response from City Council member Mike Suarez.

1) Transportation:

What are your plans to ease transportation woes in Tampa?

I have advocated for the first Transit Oriented Development (TOD) committee within HART back in 2012 and reinstituted it this past year.  As the next Mayor, we will need to develop solutions along our current corridors. I’ve created ‘Neighborhood Freedom Corridors” which will do the following:

-Gather the plans already available along defined corridors from previous studies (North-South Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and East-West BRT).

-Identify properties owned or controlled by the City, County, FDOT, or HART to determine viability for Transit Oriented Development (TOD) along the corridors.

-Identify private property owners along those corridors for potential partnership/cooperation on developing the corridors.

-Engage with Community foundations, both locally and nationally, to become funders providing workforce housing investment along the key transit corridors.

-Create “Neighborhood Action Groups” tasked with identifying their most pressing problems. Whether it’s workforce priced housing, access to transit, social or economic development, these issues will be brought forth to solve problems using the tools developed within this program.

-Have a funding framework where City Government, community foundations, and private investors will provide capital to meet challenges of the neighborhoods along the identified corridors.

Do you support using transportation taxes for expanding the existing trolley line in Ybor City and downtown?

I have been a leader in expanding the streetcar and modernizing the line to make it a vital part of our central business district. As a former Chair of Hart, I understand the role this agency will play in providing the plan and the dollars to make any extension outside of the downtown area. Unlike the current Mayor, I will sit on the HART board to assure the City is an important part of extending rail to other parts of the City and/or County.

Do you support starting up light rail; or bus rapid transit that brings commuters from Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas Counties? 

These are 2 different questions. First, light rail is typically used for frequent stops within an urban setting.  I am in favor of extending our current streetcar to the Tampa Heights area, modernizing it and look at the potential of expanding it to other parts of Tampa.  On longer commuter type routes, we could look at commuter rail which has less frequent stops and can carry more people for longer distances. I will work closely with Tampa Bay Regional Transit Agency (TBARTA) to look at reasonable solutions where a regional system can be built. 

What about the Tampa Bay Next plan to expand Interstate 275?

No. I have NEVER supported it. I would hope, as the next Mayor, that we can come to some resolution with FDOT to provide a more equitable plan to provide regional mobility WITHOUT sacrificing the vibrancy of our neighborhoods.

2) Affordable housing:

What is your plan to ease the affordable housing crunch in the city of Tampa?

Do your plans include using city-owned land to lease to private developers; Will you push to build more public housing?

We have a few tools we can use in providing more workforce housing for our citizens. I would create land banks where the City owns the land, we would then contract with a developer to put homes on the land.  The homeowner would purchase the house but not the land.  By reducing the cost of land (one of the biggest drivers in the high cost of construction) we will reduce price, create new homeownership and have those individual families build equity and wealth for themselves.  In addition, we will lobby our Legislative Delegation and the Governor to NOT take any more dollars from the Sadowski fund, which is needed for emergency housing the most economically vulnerable. We need more workforce housing as I mentioned above.

What about requiring a percentage of new privately-built apartments to be subsidized at below-market rates for those who qualify?

I’d like to try what Seattle is currently doing with the Capitol Hill rail station. Currently they are building a 428-unit development where 42% of the units will be between 65% to 85% of the area median income.  We should be able to can do this through my “Neighborhood Freedom Corridors” as mentioned above. By making City owned land available but with controls, can help reduce the pricing for rental units along a transit line.

3) The innovation economy.

What can Tampa do to attract higher-paying jobs in the technology, start-up and other cutting-edge industries?

Our goal is to make the City’s total quality of life better in order to draw people who want to live here not just a place to do business.  That’s why my “Neighborhood Bill of Rights” is so important.  We need to improve our infrastructure, from transportation, workforce housing and public safety, in order to keep people coming to our City. In addition, as the next Mayor, I will have a Liaison to our public-school system to be a true partner in providing economic incentive for all types of learning. Last, I will lobby the Legislature to have the Mayor of Tampa be an automatic Trustee to the University of South Florida for the University and the City to work on initiatives closely to provide the kind of educational backbone for these high-tech industries. As Mayor, you must present a City that has a good education system, low crime, great parks and amenities, reliable and efficient transportation options AND great neighborhoods.  The more time and money we spend on making each of these factors a priority, we will continue to drive economic activity in our City, and with it, high-paying jobs.

Should Tampa use city dollars to attract outside businesses, like what the statewide economic development agency Enterprise Florida is doing?

We have used state-directed incentives in the past to varying degrees of success.  With the economy picking up, we have had very few in the last five years. I would look at these on a case by case basis and decide if it’s the right fit for the City.

4) Managing growth. 

Do you support changes to zoning, allowing for higher density housing, or allowing taller buildings in established neighborhoods?

There are some areas of the City that will have the need for higher density but a wholesale change to the entire zoning code is not something I would support at this time. 

How do you balance the need to grow with the desires of existing residents?

I will continue to listen to the needs of our neighborhoods, in terms of services and values, so that we can grow and keep our current residents’ ideas in mind.  This will be one of the biggest challenges for all of us in the City.

5) Big picture.

What is your grand vision for the future of Tampa, such as the recent developments along the Hillsborough River in downtown?

I would like to see a City where we have more choices in transportation that is part of workforce housing and not “lines on a map.” Integrating a neighborhood plan, as I propose with my “Neighborhood Freedom Corridors”, will help alleviate congestion, increase workforce housing and provide more livable and affordable throughout our City.  This includes an extensive network of sidewalks so Tampa can become a more walkable city. As part of my first 100 days, we will send a “Sidewalk Selection Survey” to each of the neighborhoods and find the best places to place the sidewalks.  I would also like to emphasize other parts of the City like the University area and Westshore, so we can have more centers of economic growth and prosperity. 

What would you like to see here, if you could make it happen?

I would like to continue to support our business community by diversifying our current industries, grow our presence in international circles both for business and tourism and enhance our unique Tampa culture and existing neighborhoods. My plan, to enhance neighborhoods, transform our transportation system, provide reasonable workforce housing will be the catalyst for propelling our City to be recognized as one of the premier cities in the nation.

Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.
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