Axios Tampa Bay

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Today's newsletter is 843 words, a 3-minute read.

1 big thing: Robo-real estate agent

Photo: Courtesy of Tomo

Mortgage platform Tomo is rolling out a new AI-powered home search portal today, including in Florida.

Why it matters: As more real-estate marketplaces integrate AI into their platforms, searching for homes could become a lot faster and easier. Plus, results could be more personalized.

Details: Former Zillow exec and Tomo co-founder Greg Schwartz developed the platform so consumers could search for homes based on specific wants — beyond the number of beds and baths — and shop more like savvy investors.

What makes Tomo different from existing home search giants is the platform's built-in, AI-powered free-text search capabilities, according to Schwartz.

  • The idea, Schwartz tells Axios, is for consumers to describe their dream house the way they might share with a friend.

Axios tested the tool and found it was capable of picking up on specific preferences. We plugged in: "Home with a view of lake washington, modern design, a rooftop deck, and its really important for me to have a space to WFH. Oh the kids love a backyard."

  • More than 300 listing matches came up, clearly tagged with which boxes the home checked. Some had just a couple of the requisites tagged checked off, others had most.

When you click on a listing, you'll see a description plus the names of the current owners, their original loan amount and the estimated remaining mortgage balance.

Of note: Homeowners with privacy concerns can email the Tomo support team to have their names removed.

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2. GOP stampedes in Clearwater election

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

The first ballots of the season hit mailboxes in Pinellas County this week.

Why it matters: The presidential race isn't the only election to watch. Closer to home, municipal elections are heating up.

Zoom in: After Clearwater's mayor quit suddenly and publicly last year, a new mayor and new councilmembers will reshape Tampa Bay's third-largest city.

Context: In Clearwater's government system, the mayor runs meetings and acts as the face of City Hall but has an equal vote with four other councilmembers.

What's ahead: The deadline to request a mail ballot is March 7, early voting is March 9-17 and election day is March 19.

Mayor's race: He said, she said

Who's running: Bruce Rector, an attorney who ran for City Council unsuccessfully in 2020, takes on councilmember Kathleen Beckman.

The attacks: Rector is endorsed by former mayor Frank Hibbard and his appointed replacement, Interim Mayor Brian Aungst Sr., both Republicans, as well as U.S. Rep. Anna Paulina Luna (R-St. Petersburg) and the Tampa Bay Times editorial board.

  • In a letter mailed by Rector's campaign, Hibbard names Beckman as the reason for his sudden resignation, claiming she wanted to prioritize $90 million for a new city hall in the budget. She denies the claim, saying the project is now projected to cost $31.5 million, according to the Times.
  • Hibbard also recently filed a complaint with the Florida Commission on Ethics accusing Beckman of using city resources to aid her campaign for mayor, per Florida Politics.

The other side: Rector has big names on his side, but he's admitted that Beckman has power in numbers. Aggressive door knocking and face-to-face time with voters won her the council seat in 2020, and she's remained available to constituents, per the Times.

On the issues: The candidates differ on how to clear up traffic, and whether to privatize city parks and recreation facilities. (Rector's in favor; Beckman's opposed.)

Keep reading: A Scientology showdown in Seat 2

3. The Pulp: Tampa's new firetrucks

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

🚧 The Hillsborough County Commission will decide whether to permit development on land owned by a struggling, but historic, mega church. (Tampa Bay Times)

🍽️ Dunedin Mix, a "fresh take" on a food hall, held its soft opening last week. It features a rotating bar, live music and retail space. (Creative Loafing)

🚒 Tampa Fire Rescue Department unveiled a new fleet of vehicles, including three rescue cars, aimed at reducing response times. (WFLA)

4. 🪸 Reefs devastated by heat wave

Mission: Iconic Reefs field team member Cate Gelston assesses the health of coral reef communities in Florida. Photo: Ben Edmonds/NOAA

A new survey of five Florida Keys' coral reefs shows extensive damage from a long-lasting and severe marine heat wave last year.

Why it matters: Corals are havens for biodiversity, providing shelter for over 25% of ocean animals, and they are major drivers of fishing and tourism revenue. Increasingly, climate change is threatening their viability.

The details: The preliminary results show that less than 22% of the approximately 1,500 staghorn coral surveyed are still alive.

  • Of the five reefs surveyed by NOAA's Mission: Iconic Reefs program and the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium, only the two most northern ones, Carysfort Reef and Horseshoe Reef, had any living staghorn coral.
  • And of those surveyed, live elkhorn coral was only found at three sites.
  • No living staghorn or elkhorn corals were found at sample areas surveyed at Looe Key Reef, located in the lower Florida Keys, NOAA stated in a news release.

Keep reading: Scientists' efforts to save coral reefs

Sponsored job listings

New jobs to check out

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  1. Senior Promo Manager Marketing at Ashley.
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Hiring? Use code FIRST50 for $50 off your first job post.

5. 🔥 Hot Boxes: Tampa Bay's mail art

Photo: Courtesy of Dan Xie

Reader Dan Xie spotted this lovely twist on the Manatee mailbox in Reddington Shores.

📬 Seen novelty mailboxes around Tampa Bay? Send us photos, and we'll feature them in our next installment!

🙊 Selene is reading about how The Cut's financial advice columnist got scammed out of $50,000.

🥒 Yacob made Maya try a Pop Rocks pickle at the fair.

ğŸŽ Kathryn is thoroughly enjoying a rewatch of "Desperate Housewives."

This newsletter was edited by Jeff Weiner and copy edited by Azi Najafi.