In a 1973 interview, American writer Walter Lippman observed, “We are a great country that over-reached itself and is out of breath.” That year’s events supported his assertion. War in the Middle East ushered in an Arab oil embargo that cast a gloomy shadow on the U.S. economy. The Watergate scandal shook U.S. politics to its foundations. Military failure in Vietnam demonstrated America’s limitations on an international scale.
Development in Hillsborough County had reached similar limitations in 1973, though Tampa remained stagnant. Hillsborough’s population grew by 23 percent since USF opened in 1960, with about 99 percent of the growth occurring outside of Tampa. USF’s presence encouraged unprecedented development in the northern part of the county. The university’s location ensured a steady rush of traffic on roads designed for a quaint time long past. The area was originally intended for residential housing, not commercial development. The city of Temple Terrace was especially alarmed, as it had no input in zoning decisions.
County Commissioner Betty Castor warned that development “has been allowed to run wild. Today’s boom could be tomorrow’s bust.” University Square Mall, Hillsborough County’s largest shopping center at the time and the most conspicuous symbol of the flood of construction around the campus, was being built. Interstate 275, coupled with Interstate 75, which was still being built in 1973, increased traffic exponentially. Fowler Avenue went from being a dirt road, to one of the county’s busiest arteries.
The local government struggled to keep up with the demands for water, sewage, roads and power. Castor said all the building would have to stop for two years in order for utilities to catch up.
The rash of growth impacted USF significantly. Passing cars struck student bike riders on a regular basis. Increased traffic meant more accidents and, eventually, more traffic lights. To deal with increased sewage, the county installed a temporary water treatment plant across from USF.
Students complained that Riverfront Park was crowded with speeding motorcycles and off-road cars, boat trailers and non-student visitors. USF officials closed it to the public and prohibited vehicles from being on the property.
Worse yet, students could not swim at Riverfront Park because a dozen local companies had been illegally dumping raw sewage into nearby creeks from septic tank trucks. Low water levels exacerbated the bacterial contamination. A bumbling Hillsborough County Environmental Protection Agency did not follow up on leads fast enough, and no one was ever prosecuted.
All the development and increased water use dried up the area’s marshes. Pinellas County alone pumped 60 million gallons from Hillsborough’s water table every day. Much like today, industrial water use and residential lawn sprinkling were the culprits.
The pollution problem came to a head when the Florida Pollution Control Department named USF as one of the state’s major polluters. USF’s General Counsel argued that the boiler under scrutiny was merely a back-up system. The university needed that back-up boiler: its power usage had doubled since 1965.
USF was a victim of its own success, with enrollment at almost 20,000, exceeding 1970’s projected estimate by 100 percent. The cafeteria could not cope with the crowds, and the snack bars ran out of food. The Library, then located in today’s Student Services Building, burst at the seams with materials and patrons. For the first time, a computer assisted with the chaotic registration procedures, speeding the process and choosing alternative classes for students. University Police officers directed traffic in lieu of traffic lights.
USF’s Bike Club staged a rally for more bike paths in the area. More than 50 cyclists, including USF President Cecil Mackey, rode to the county courthouse to present a petition for the paths. Later that afternoon, a USF cyclist student was hospitalized with injuries after being hit by a car at the edge of campus.
It was a time of acute shortages and inflation. Surging gasoline prices and long waits at gas stations severly hampered commuting students. Skyrocketing food prices forced USF food service providers to raise prices. Lunch prices that year rose from $1.45 to $1.75. The national price of ground beef doubled to more than $1 a pound. President Nixon’s price freeze only made matters worse, according to a food service representative. A paper shortage was also under way, and legislators in Tallahassee requested that old letters and memos be cut up for notes. Florida Chancellor Robert Mautz appealed to the State University System to conserve electricity.
An Oracle editorial decried the “boom town” atmosphere surrounding USF, and 1972’s yearbook devoted six pages to pollution awareness. Some students attended County Commission meetings to make their views known. Others asked Mackey to make an appeal to stop the development.
Far from appealing for decreased growth, USF allied itself with developers during the 1980s. The university issued them loans, sat on their boards and became involved with nearby projects, such as Tampa Palms, Hunter’s Green and corporate parks.
Maxine Hatcher, a member of Hillsborough County’s Planning Commission, said, “The university is not a chamber of commerce booster club,” but appearances indicated the contrary. A Tampa Tribune editorial said, “USF is most visible as a booster, even an embracer, of development and industry. The institution is not nearly as visible when growth-management problems are discussed. USF seems more interested in developing a rapport with the business community than in tackling vital community problems.”
Kenneth Good, the chairman of the Tampa Palms Development Corporation, put it best when he said, apparently without irony, “The public sector trusts the university more than they might (trust) some of us scumbags.” Incidentally, Good was later investigated for defaulting on multi-million-dollar loans that were issued by Silverado Banking, a Savings & Loan under Neil Bush, George W. Bush’s brother. Silverado’s failure in 1988 cost taxpayers $1 billion, and Bush admitted to wrongdoing. Good’s employer at the time: Bush Exploration, an oil corporation in Denver. The same year as the S&L failure, Good participated as a speaker at a USF symposium on various issues confronting society. His subject … development.
When his business went sour, Good reneged on promised loans to state universities, such as USF. Happily, he donated property to a center at FSU in 1993 that sold much of it to Hillsborough County for use as Flatwoods Park. The funds from the sale went to USF and FSU. Under Good’s ownership, it would have been turned into residential and commercial development.
Want to share a memory or suggest an idea for a column? Send an e-mail to Andrew Huse at email@example.com or call 974-7622.
This is the last installment of USF History 101 for the spring semester. Look for it again in the fall.