Tampa Mayor Jane Castor waited over 5 months to admit she approved controversial Hanna Ave project | Tampa Bay News | Tampa

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Jane Castor/Twitter

Mayor Jane Castor speaks at a conference earlier this month.

Yesterday Mayor Jane Castor said she had approved Tampa’s ‘City Center at Hanna Avenue’ after more than five months of city councilors and local leaders asking who was responsible for the controversial project.

His admission comes after several city council meetings since November, in which construction experts and city council members have repeatedly questioned who was responsible for the green lighting of the project, which has grown from $10 million to $108 million without a public tender, among other glaring problems, including the initial lack of participation from unions and the black community.

Not only did Castor avoid answering the important question from the community until yesterday, but his town’s attorneys pushed back against appearing before council to discuss the project in March.

Eventually, however, the staff discussed the project. At a March 31 city council meeting, Castor chief of staff John Bennett said, “The administration pulled this together collectively and made the best decision they could at the time.”

But today, buried in the second half of a Tampa Bay Times article about Castor claiming she had ‘no problem’ with the city council despite recent disputes that suggest otherwise, the mayor admitted that it was ultimately his call to endorse the city center project.

“I made this decision. I was presented with all the facts, all the information, and I made the decision that was in the best interests of our community,” Castor told The Times.

Castor explained his reasoning for approving the project and giving it directly to DPR Construction without a public bid to The Times. She said leases were expiring in buildings that house city workers, leading to an emergency. She said a delay in the project’s public submission would have increased costs, especially in light of recent inflation.

But she did not answer when asked why she had not come forward and said she had made the decision when so many people in the construction and council community were asking who had approved the project .

Creative Loafing Tampa Bay has contacted the city’s director of communications, Adam Smith, for clarification, but has yet to receive a response.

Last week, Castor held a press conference with Smith to discuss more transparency and accountability measures in light of the recent forced resignation of former councilman John Dingfelder due to a lawsuit in the public records. , and Councilman Orlando Gudes accused of creating a hostile workplace, through caustic, sexual language.

But when asked by reporters about the administration’s own transparency, Castor was argumentative, leading to harsh words from some of Tampa’s top political and media players.

“I’ve watched or covered City Hall since 1988 and I’ve never seen this level of animosity from a mayor toward members of council,” award-winning journalist Wayne Garcia told CL. master instructor at the University of South Florida.

In November 2021, the Tampa City Council approved the downtown project after being convinced by the Castor administration that the cost was worth it. The project is currently under construction and will house hundreds of city employees on 11 acres.

A month after council approval, construction experts began sounding the alarm about the project to city council, saying the bidding process may have violated state law and that there was a lack of representation of black entrepreneurs. Meanwhile, the project is being built on the edge of Seminole Heights and East Tampa, a historically black area. Union leaders also intervened, saying the project did not meet the requirements of the city’s union apprenticeship ordinance.

Click to enlarge Construction is underway on Tampa's Hanna Avenue project, despite months of controversy.  - JUSTIN GARCIA

Justin Garcia

Construction is underway on Tampa’s Hanna Avenue project, despite months of controversy.

The chorus of voices increased until several municipal councilors also took an interest in the project and challenged the administration on this subject. The project’s most vocal critics were Councilmen Orlando Gudes, Bill Carlson and former Councilman John Dingfelder, all of whom claimed the administration had targeted them with leaking stories to the media in recent months.

At the March 31 city council meeting, after council struggled to get city staff to talk to the public about the project, Councilman Carlson was finally able to ask city staff about it.

“The big question right now is who made the decision?” asked Carlson.

He put this question to Assistant City Attorney Morris Massey, who said: “If there is a specific person, I don’t know the name of that specific person, but the administration has recommended that we let’s do this.”

Massey added that the city’s contract administration also thinks it’s legally permissible, but Carlson kept asking about the administration’s reasoning behind not having an appeals process. of public tenders. He said better prices could have been obtained through competitive bidding, again asking who specifically made the decision.

“You ask a lawyer for business decisions,” Massey replied.

Massey looked at Bennett, who jumped onto the City Council podium in his place, saying, “There were many facets that brought this decision together.”

At no time during the meeting was Castor’s name mentioned as a decision maker.

At the end of the meeting, the advisers, including Carlson, who had originally asked for options on how to cancel the project, allowed the project to go ahead. According to staff, improvements include involving the black community and unionized apprentices in the project. But Carlson said he was disappointed the legal department wouldn’t allow the board to amend or renew the contract.

The Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board was not satisfied with the city’s conclusion, citing the project’s flawed bidding process and that the city missed a chance to get a better deal.

“The city should start over. This was a preventable mistake, and correcting it would send the right message to city staff, the business community, and the people of Tampa. It could also save valuable taxes,” reads- we in the editorial. “The word transparency is thrown around quite casually at City Hall. Here’s a chance to put that buzzword into action and drop the East Tampa schedule as a political fee.”

Today Carlson weighed in on the mayor’s admission, saying: ‘I’m glad Mayor Castor has finally been transparent with the public after months of questioning who made this fiscally reckless decision. Voters want the city to fix potholes, build sidewalks and repair infrastructure rather than wasting money on legacy projects.

This isn’t the first time Castor has been tied to questionable decisions about development projects in the city of Tampa. Last year, a developer challenged Tampa’s decision to award a multimillion-dollar construction contract to Miami-based Related Group, which donated $10,000 to the election PAC. mayor Jane Castor and employed her nephew.

A review officer ultimately ruled in favor of the city and the mayor in the dispute, and that project is also underway.

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