TAMPA, Fla. - As protests continue daily regarding racial injustice on the streets of Tampa, the Tampa City Council (meeting as the Community Redevelopment Agency) approved a proposal on Thursday to have staff look at redirecting millions of dollars currently geared to the downtown and Channel districts, and move them towards some of the more economically challenged areas of the city.
Call it “defunding the CRAs.”
Tampa has eight separate Community Redevelopment Agencies (CRAs). These are districts where all the increased property tax revenues generated inside those districts are diverted from the general fund and instead placed back into those areas to pay for improvements in them.
Councilman Bill Carlson says that he’d like the funds that currently are derived from the CRA’s in downtown and the Channel District to instead be redirected towards East Tampa, Sulphur Springs and the Uptown Innovation District (the North Tampa area surrounding USF and Busch Gardens).
The Channel District CRA is scheduled to sunset in the next couple of years. In the case of the downtown CRA, the plan would be to cap the amount of tax incremental funds in that area, with those other remaining dollars put back into the general fund.
It’s a proposal he says he’s thought about since being elected to the council more than a year ago, but acknowledges that there’s an emphasis on improving conditions for lower-income communities since the protests began over the killing of George Floyd while in custody of a Minneapolis police officer more than two weeks ago.
“We have to take advantage of the opportunity right now since there’s community demand for change,” Carlson said after the meeting. “We need to have these important votes while we can. While we have the momentum and interest from the community.”
CRAs are tools for local governments to overcome slum and blight in certain areas – but the downtown area and Channel District are in fact in much better shape economically than other parts of Tampa (according to the city’s 2019 Annual Activity report, the Channel and downtown CRAs have millions more in their fund balances than the other six CRAs combined).
In the case of the Channel District, there’s approximately $3.5 million that could serve those other areas. The city is one of three organizations that pays into the Channel CRA – with Hillsborough County and the Tampa Port being the other entities. Among the funds that the Channel CRA currently pays for annually is the Tampa Streetcar
The Council voted 6-0 on investigating both proposals. Councilmen Charlie Miranda and Luis Viera said they were good with it as long as it was legally sound.
At last week’s council meeting, Carlson read off a number of actions where he said the city of Tampa had let down the black community over the past decade. Two things he says the current Council is pushing for is to restore (or rebuild) the Fair Oaks Community Center in East Tampa, and restoring the Jackson House, a historic boarding house that hosted prominent black artists throughout the 20thCentury that was nearly razed six years ago.
Although there were only a handful of public speakers at Thursday’s meeting, some regular attendees expressed concern that the urgency that the council (and the mayor and the police chief) expressed last week about racial equity was in danger of being diluted just a week later.
“If you go now to wear you usually have your meetings,” said Connie Burton, referring to Old City Hall (the council is now meeting at the Tampa Convention Center), “you would see Black Lives Matter signs hanging out of the windows. But I question that when I look at the agenda and it says, ‘business as usual.’
CRA Director Michelle Van Loan said if it’s ultimately decided to sunset the Channel CRA, it would take at least a year to happen. That’s in part because they would need to work with the county and the Port on previously signed interlocal agreements. Only the City Council could officially sunset the CRA, however.
Mayor Jane Castor supports the general concept of not renewing the Channel CRA, spokesperson Ashley Bauman said on Thursday.
The CRA staff will come back with an analysis of the proposals on July 23.