Bill Foster to hire Midtown development chief, focus on public safety issues in black communities

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Mayor Bill Foster announced Tuesday that he will hire an economic developer to oversee Midtown and the Childs Park neighborhood, as well as examine public safety issues affecting the African American community.

Foster made the announcement prior to an NAACP co-sponsored debate scheduled for Wednesday at the Sunshine Center.

Some questioned the timing of Foster’s efforts, which come as he faces a tight re-election race and accusations by challenger Rick Kriseman that he has ignored economic challenges in neighborhoods, including Midtown. Foster had not discussed his plans with Council members either.

Amid mounting criticism over his handling of Sweetbay’s departure from Midtown, Foster announced the following initiatives:

• He will hire an economic developer to focus on the Midtown and Childs Park areas for business and job growth. (Kriseman already has pledged in his election bid to hire a senior administrator to focus on improving the economy of Midtown.)

• A citizens’ panel will be organized to look at relations between police and the African-American community. (Kriseman has been critical of the police  pursuit policy, and has talked about the need to re-emphasize community policing in neighborhoods.)

Council chair Karl Nurse told The Tampa Bay Times on Tuesday that “It has become wholly apparent that the lack of someone who’s totally focused on (Midtown) is a problem. I’m glad that two weeks before the election the mayor figured that out.”