Tampa’s Community Redevelopment Agency will vote Thursday on giving the Straz Center $25 million.
Tampa’s City Council members, acting in their capacity as the Community Redevelopment Agency, will vote on whether they should approve the largest single-funding request in the group’s history.
The David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts asked the city for $25 million as part of its $100 million expansion. The request, particularly its size and how that money would be used, has raised questions over the purpose of CRA funds.
The Redevelopment Agency was supposed to vote on the request during a September meeting, but Straz Center representatives asked for a continuance. The Straz representatives did not give a reason for requesting the continuance. However, Council member Luis Viera said he believes it was for better optics amid simmering dissent.
“I see this 30-day continuance as an effort by our friends at the Straz Center — we all support their mission — to try to be collaborative and try to get a 7-0 vote,” he said during the Sept. 9 CRA meeting.
To date, Viera has been the only CRA member to voice opposition to the the funding.
The Community Redevelopment Act of 1969 provided the avenue for local governments to establish CRAs with the purpose of developing slum and blighted areas. Tampa has eight Community Redevelopment Areas. The downtown CRA was established in the 1980s to develop the then-sparse and blighted downtown core.
The Straz request is the largest one-time request the CRA has received and the Center’s plans show less than half of the $25 million would go toward public spaces. Most of the money would go to building improvements that could be used by the public, such as a new bistro in the building.
Last month, Viera told the Tampa Bay Times he thinks that money can and should be better spent.
“What we could spend it on in downtown Tampa? Imagine — we could spend funds to improve the streetcar. We could spend these funds on affordable downtown housing. We have Curtis Hixon,” Viera told the Times. “Imagine what these funds could do to renovate that playground, to include disability accessible equipment. Or sidewalks all throughout Franklin Street. There are so many things we can do with that money.”
Council member Bill Carlson was frustrated with the delay and voted against the continuation. He said the arts community in Tampa needs support.
“As the buzz of this started circulation around town yesterday it sent shockwaves through the arts community,” he said during the September meeting. “I think it sets a dangerous precedent for us to make this change.”
He noted performing arts have especially suffered during the COVID-19 pandemic and need support. Viera, however, has stated he believes supporting the arts is crucial but not in such a high-dollar amount if it’s coming from CRA funds.
The project would begin in 2023 with $2.5 million from Tampa. That goes up to $5 million in 2024, $4 million in 2025, another $5 million in 2026, ending with $8.5 million in 2027. The varied amounts are to offset other CRA expenditures in those years. The Straz Center wants $25 million from Tampa and $23 million from Hillsborough County, in addition to $50 million raised itself. But it needs the Tampa funds in order to get a positive vote from the county.
The CRA meets at 9 a.m. Thursday at City Hall to discuss and vote on approving the $25 million request.