Lowe points to economic growth in State of the City address
Published: Wednesday, January 23, 2013 at 5:34 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 23, 2013 at 5:34 p.m.
In Wednesday's annual State of the City address, Gainesville Mayor Craig Lowe touted a year of economic development in the technology sector.
Speaking at the Hippodrome State Theatre, Lowe also defended the biomass plant now being built and supported maintaining Gainesville Regional Utilities as a municipally-owned utility. He also expressed optimism about cooperating with the current Alachua County Commission on transportation issues and, in the wake of the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., made broad comments in support of regulations to curb gun violence.
Nearing the end of his first term as mayor and vying for re-election, Lowe described Gainesville's success in landing India-based software firm Mindtree's first U.S. location — and 400 jobs — as "the story of the year."
Throughout his speech, he compared the community's combined efforts on economic development to a community "barn raising" of the 19th century. The four walls of Gainesville's economic development, he said, were preservation of the environment and neighborhoods, arts and education, public safety and equality.
Lowe said local governments' partnerships with the private sector and the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce helped land Mindtree and Silver Airways, keep Prioria Robotics in town and are playing a role in the ongoing effort to attract Massachusetts technology firm Mobiquity.
Through the state's Qualified Target Industry program, the City Commission and County Commission approved incentive packages in the form of tax rebates for Mindtree, Prioria and Mobiquity.
The city and a hired contractor also have worked on an accelerated timetable to renovate a former GRU warehouse and transform it into the new headquarters for Prioria.
"Our collaboration with the private sector was a major highlight of the past year, and I firmly believe that we have left behind any ideas of a business-unfriendly environment that have been suggested in the past," Lowe said.
The city's 30-year contract to purchase all of the output of the privately owned 100-megawatt biomass plant has been an ongoing point of contention for its impact on electric rates and the fact that portions of the power purchase contract, including how much the city would pay, remained redacted until the settlement of a lawsuit in 2011.
On Wednesday, Lowe maintained that, "while some have attempted to re-imagine the facts surrounding this plant," it will create local jobs, bring price stability in the long term and "move us away from our dependence on dirty, out-of-state coal."
Some biomass opponents have argued that commissioners' approval of the contract terms, their continued support for the plant and the fact that rate increases also will impact GRU customers outside the city limits are reason to take governance of GRU away from the City Commission.
Lowe said environmental initiatives such as the city's solar feed-in tariff, the use of treated wastewater to recharge the aquifer and the ongoing project to restore the natural flow of water into the north end Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park would not be pursued by an investor-owned utility.
Last year also brought a dispute between the City Commission and County Commission over a roads sales tax initiative and the County Commission majority's decision to remove city transit projects from the ballot referendum.
The tax ultimately failed overwhelmingly in November during the same election that Democrats swept the three County Commission seats on the ballot. Now, six of the seven city commissioners and three-fifths of the County Commission are members of the county's Democratic Executive Committee.
Lowe said last year's process on the sales tax "was not what I wanted and not what our commission wanted, but we're ready to put all of that behind us."
He said he expected better cooperation with the current County Commission on transportation issues and said "we must avoid the false argument that roads and transit are an either/or endeavor."
Lowe also discussed last year's mass shootings at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., and at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. Lowe, a member of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, said that in both incidents, the shooter had an assault rifle with the "capability to fire a large number of bullets in an extremely short time."
Lowe said that in the coming days, he will request that the City Commission take a stance in support of "sensible regulation to promote public safety."
After his speech, Lowe declined to comment further on the specifics of what he would request commissioners to support.