Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn staged his 2014 “State of the City” address inside the old Tampa Armature Works building on the east banks of the Hillsborough River. The one-story brick structure is where they used to store the trolleys that once connected Tampa’s neighborhoods to downtown.
The significance of the old trolley building was not lost on the 500 people watching as Buckhorn used his “bully pulpit” to call for a funding referendum to support expanded bus service and light rail in Tampa.
“Don’t let anyone kid you and say fare-box revenue has to make sense because transportation never pays for itself,” Buckhorn said. “Every time we buy a gallon of gas, the gas tax pays for the roads. We need mobility options. And our goal at the latest should be a referendum in the fall of 2016.”
Buckhorn also encouraged Tampa residents to support the Pinellas County “Greenlight” referendum, although they can not vote on the transportation funding vote in November. If passed, Pinellas would eliminate a property tax and instead add a penny sales tax to fund expanded bus service and a 24-mile light rail connecting St. Petersburg and Clearwater.
“The time has come for us to stand up. We need mobility options and we need them sooner rather than later,” Buckhorn said. “We need rail as an option and yes we need to recognize that rail will never pay for itself. No means of transportation pays for itself.”
Buckhorn's speech also highlighted the city's decreasing crime rate and residential development downtown. Over the last nine years crime has dropped 69 percent in the City of Tampa Buckhorn said, adding that means 150,000 fewer victims.
And it’s one of the reasons why he asked Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor to serve another year – beyond her 30-year mandatory retirement next month.
“My chief is not going anywhere. I would submit to you there’s not a city in America that has reduced crime by 69 percent and we’re keeping our chief,” Buckhorn said.
Looking ahead, the mayor predicted there would be five residential towers under construction in Tampa’s urban core within the next 12 to 18 months.
“This river that you see behind me will be the center of everything we that do,” Buckhorn said.”The days of turning our back on the river are over. The days of us building non-conforming uses and parking garages on the river are over. The days of us looking at the river as the western edge of downtown are over. That needs to be the center of our urban experience.”
As the mayor wrapped up his 41-minute speech, city workers faded up music giving it the feel of a political rally. This was his final “State of the City” speech, unless the Tampa mayor runs for re-election in March 2015.