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Tampa No Longer America's Next Great City; 'We Have Arrived:' Castor

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TAMPA, FL — In her first State of the City address since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor described the city as “extraordinarily strong” and its people “resilient.”

“For decades, Tampa aspired to be called America’s Next Great City,” Castor told the hundreds of residents assembled at the Tampa Convention Center. “Well, I will tell you this: Tampa, we have arrived. The rest of America has discovered Tampa, a city that works together to face challenges while brimming with optimism.”

Despite the challenges that came with the pandemic, Castor said the city weathered the storm and, in some cases, flew above the storm.

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“Nothing showed Tampa’s resilience better than our city’s response to COVID-19,” Castor said. “While other cities completely shut down and erupted in lawsuits, anger and fear, Tampa worked quickly and aggressively to protect and balance the health and wellness of our residents and our businesses.”

The city worked with Hillsborough County to mitigate the spread of the virus, reducing cases by more than 1.5 million, according to a University of South Florida analysis.

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Additionally, the city brought vaccinations to vulnerable communites, set up testing sites throughout the city and adopted a program called Lift Up Local to help businesses reopen safely.

As a result, Castor said, “Tampa’s economic recovery was one of the fastest in the nation, outpacing every city but Austin (Texas). People returned to work faster and household incomes have increased over 19 percent.”

Now, as the city emerges from the crisis, Castor said her focus is on creating more affordable housing amid rising rents and escalating home values, replacing Tampa’s aging infrastructure, implementing an aggressive sustainability program and improving roads while increasing safety and providing alternate modes of transportation.

In the midst of the mayhem facing the country, she noted that Tampa emerged as the country’s No. 1 tech hub.

Tampa transformed into a city “where entrepreneurs of all stripes want to start, expand or move their businesses, city where its best and brightest can find lifelong opportunities in their hometown, that is attracting young professionals from around the country and has consistently ranked as one of the top cities that people are moving to.”

Castor listed notable accomplishments including:

  • The city currently has 103 active construction projects, a $1.7 billion investment in Tampa’s infrastructure.
  • The city is spending nearly $3 billion to replace and maintain water and wastewater lines that, in many parts of Tampa, are over 100 years old.
  • The city is installing new water meters that will identify leaks immediately and conserve millions of gallons of water.
  • The city is implementing a project called Pure that will help the city withstand droughts and improve the health of the Hillsborough River.
  • The city is undertaking major stormwater projects to reduce flooding caused by heavy rain in South Tampa and Seminole Heights.
  • The city is on track to meet Castor’s goal of creating 10,000 housing units by 2027.
  • The city spent $103 million on housing efforts in the past two years.
  • The city’s COVID-19 relief programs allowed more than 5,000 residents to remain in their homes.
  • The city’s transportation system is undergoing more than $120 million in major improvements, including the transformational West River Walk Project connecting West Tampa, Tampa Heights, downtown and South Tampa with the help of $25 million in federal funding secured by Congresswoman Kathy Castor, D-Tampa.
  • The city adopted “Tampa Moves,” a visionary 30-year transportation plan to make Tampa safer for pedestrians and bicyclists with projects like the Green Spine Cycling Track, the Complete Streets program, the Vision Zero initiative and more than 30 street resurfacing projects.
  • The city secured $25 million in federal and state grants for pedestrian safety and transit improvements to Tampa Heights.
  • The city also received a $65 million state grant to extend the streetcar system, currently ranked No. 2 in the nation.
  • The city is moving its services to East Tampa to make it easier for residents to access them by making a historic investment in turning an abandoned factory that was an eyesore into the City Center at Hanna, thereby eliminating the rents Tampa is now paying for office space.
  • The city launched TPA-WRX, a one-stop shop connecting residents to jobs and resources such as child care, job training in high-demand industries and ensuring that women-and minority-owned companies have equal access to city contracts.
  • Castor appointed the city’s first sustainability and resilience officer, Whit Remer, who is leading efforts to increase the use of renewable energy, protect and enhance the coastline and fortify infrastructure with solar panels, green spaces and green technology.
  • The city distributed more than 1,000 trees to residents to protect and strengthen Tampa’s tree canopy.
  • The city partnered with residents to reduce crime and lift up neighborhoods.
  • The city funded 21 replacement vehicles for Tampa Fire Rescue and will invest in more units to reduce response times.
  • Tampa received the National Gold Medal Award for excellence in parks and recreation management and is now developing a parks master plan for the next 10 to 20 years.

“This moment in time presents us with enormous opportunities and responsibilities,” Castor said. “We can choose to be a city where households of all income levels have housing opportunities and choices. We can choose to be a city with world-class transit and safe options for getting around instead of growing potholes and traffic jams. We can choose to be a city where better jobs reward hard work and lift families out of poverty and into the middle class. We can choose to be a city that puts the quality of life for our residents first.”

Click here to read Castor’s entire address.

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