There were a lot of people and a lot of groups behind the fury that was the Greenlight Pinellas campaign to improve public transportation in Pinellas County. Despite its shattering defeat, Greenlight had prominent backers in government and business the likes of Pinellas County Commissioners, city mayors and chambers of commerce. But in the final months of campaigning, one voice rang particularly loud.
That’s B2 Communications co-founder Kyle Parks. His company headed up media relations for Friends of Greenlight, the fundraising committee for the transit referendum. B2 Communications is officially off the job now that Greenlight is in the grave, but Parks is not. He’s continuing a volunteer role as marketing and PR chair of the Tampa Bay District Council for the Urban Land Institute.
B2 Communications got paid for its role in Greenlight. And its fee was not insignificant. Since July, the communications firm was paid $38,000 for public relations, according to campaign finance documents. As co-founder and lead on the PR efforts, Parks obviously benefitted from that. The company, according to Parks, isn’t getting paid from Greenlight anymore, but they are continuing at least a small advocacy role for transit expansion throughout Tampa Bay.
“That does show that we were doing this for our passion,” Parks said.
Parks has lived in the Tampa Bay area since 1984 except for a three-year stint he spent in Atlanta. He said during that time he has seen the area transform from a region that really didn’t communicate into one where the two sides of the bay are finally trying to find consensus on how to solve its traffic woes.
“I drive across the bridge all the time and I see the traffic,” Parks said. “I don’t want this to be a place where people don’t move here and we don’t have the quality of life that we want to have.”
The Greenlight Pinellas plan would have increased the county’s sales tax from 7 percent to 8 percent. The additional revenue would have increased revenue for the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority from $30 million to $130 million and replaced the portion of property taxes that currently fund PSTA. But voters proved that sales tax is just too unpopular.
No matter how many voters B2 and other supporters reached to explain that the sales tax would pay for massive bus improvements, bus rapid transit and a light rail line connecting the county, it just wasn’t enough to overcome the tax stigma. A post election exit poll showed that even thought the opposition group No Tax for Tracks directed much of their ire at the rail portion of the plan, that wasn’t the part voters rejected.
That information could prove useful to officials in Hillsborough County as they take steps to place a referendum on the 2016 ballot asking for transit improvements likely similar to those in Greenlight.
Expect Parks to play a roll in those discussions and to support transit measures as they pop up. For him it’s not just that multi-modal transportation makes sense, he believes it does, it’s also an economic development and growth issue.
“If you talk about companies that work with other companies – we want it to be a place where companies like ours can be a part of that corporate fabric,” Parks said.
That means attracting businesses that offer high-quality, high-paying jobs. Supporters of transit initiatives like Greenlight Pinellas argue having robust public transportation systems and options that allow residents and workers to get out of their cars is a key to drawing those types of jobs.
The conversation in Pinellas County is not over and it’s continuing in Hillsborough County as well. Groups like the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce and the Tampa Bay Partnership are continuing to support and encourage plans that support growth.
As for Parks, he and B2 Communications co-founder Missy MacFarlane typically work with commercial real estate, construction and banking companies as well as doing PR for the Ybor City Development Corporation. Taking on Greenlight Pinellas was something of an anomaly for him. Asked whether he’d be taking on any more political projects through his company Parks said what many defeated politicians say when asked if they’d run again, “never say never.”