Bob Buckhorn: Tampa is better for the Rays than St. Pete

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Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn sounded a little like his St. Pete counterpart today while talking about wooing the Tampa Bay Rays to his city.

Both mayors insist their city is the best pick for the Major League Baseball team as the team itself says only that it intends to take a “fresh look” at where they may end up playing ball in the coming years.

After Kriseman announced the agreement with the Rays to allow the franchise to begin evaluating potential sites for a new stadium outside St. Pete in Pinellas County or Hillsborough, Buckhorn gathered a handful of reporters for a press conference where he said he was excited about the prospect.

“It’s a day that has been a long time coming through all the trials and tribulations. I think we are now positioned to be able to explore all of our options,” Buckhorn said. “If you want to play baseball in Florida, Tampa is where you want to be.”

Among the reasons Buckhorn listed for having one-up on St. Pete is the city’s central proximity to residents throughout the region.

“Any way you look at it, getting to Tropicana [Field] on a weeknight game is a challenge,” Buckhorn said.

He boasted the city’s impressive skyline while skimming over his assertion that a waterfront stadium probably isn’t in the cards. He talked about the stadium, wherever that might end up, being walkable.

But earlier in the day, Kriseman touted his city as the better baseball destination. Both mayors used growing downtown residential development as evidence. The bottom line is, there’s not a lot either mayor can do to influence the Rays at this point.

If it ends up being about money, Tampa may not be sitting in the best situation. The city has about $100 million it could use toward a stadium, but that’s only available if the stadium is built within the downtown urban core that comprises the Tax Incremental Fund district. Regardless, Buckhorn said the financing is going to be difficult and the Rays will have to come to the table as equal partners.

“There will not be a referendum here solely for a stadium. What you will see is a financing package that will be layered,” Buckhorn said.

That could mean tapping things like rental car surcharges, a tourist development tax and some public financing.

Another question ahead of Buckhorn and anyone else hoping for a stab at the Rays is where to put a new stadium. Buckhorn said the Channelside site batted around by some is not likely to be a good pick. He mentioned the ConAgra factory on Nebraska just on the edge of downtown. The 1938 factory represents what’s left of Tampa’s industrial past and has become an eyesore among high-rise developments in the area.

“The challenge with ConAgra is ingress and egress,” Buckhorn said, noting that he wants a walkable stadium, not one that will create gridlock.

Regardless, any deal will be difficult, Buckhorn acknowledged, but he’s “prepared to move forward.”

“The ultimate goal is to find a way to keep the Rays here,” he said, referring to the entire region and again echoing Kriseman’s words just hours before him.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.