A month or so ago, I had the opportunity to talk at length with Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn while both he and I were in Tallahassee and staying at the same hotel (he couldn’t avoid me!).
Discussing the never-ending rivalry between St. Petersburg and Tampa, both of us made a similar point: in the battle of the Bay, never before has both St. Pete and Tampa been “hot” at the same time. It’s always been either-or.
For most of the second half of the 20th century, it was Tampa, which was “America’s Next Great City” or whatever it was it described itself on the signs welcoming visitors to town. But once St. Petersburg won the baseball team and, not coincidentally, switched to a strong-mayor form of government, it’s been the ‘burg which has enjoyed almost two decades of renaissance.
The years while Rick Baker was mayor of St. Pete were especially kind to the Sunshine City, as the city gained a national reputation for arts, culture, a livable downtown, and strong neighborhoods. Even during the past five years since Baker left office, St. Pete has continued to prosper, so much so that two years ago it was recognized by The New York Times as one of the top 50 places in the world to visit.
During this same time period, Tampa certainly did not suffer, not with Pam Iorio as steward of the city’s wellbeing. But it didn’t exactly advance, either. In fact, Tampa became a symbol for the impact of the Great Recession, as detailed in George Packer’s must-read, The Unwinding.
With Buckhorn’s election in 2011, Tampa “got its swagger back,” and in several ways has caught back up with St. Petersburg in the two cities’ rivalrous relationship.
Regardless of which city is the top in the relationship, there is no doubt that both cities are enjoying remarkably prosperous times, even relative to other mid-sized U.S. cities. A day seems to not go by without some story in the Tampa Bay Business Journal about another company moving its corporate HQs. Meanwhile, both St. Pete and Tampa find themselves on this list and that list for Best City For (fill in the blank).
If you ask Bob Buckhorn which city is doing better, of course he will tell you Tampa, just as if you ask most anyone on the west side of the bridges which city is doing better and they will tell you the ‘burg.
Of course, this blog — named after our beloved St. Petersburg — still considers St. Pete the best city in the Sunshine State. In fact, I believe this now more than I did when I first launched SaintPetersBlog.
A vibrant downtown that now stretches for almost two miles. The waterfront parks. The redeveloped Sundial. A soccer team that sells out its games. And on and on.
I, of course, am biased. So let’s ask someone who can be objective about which city is doing better.
How about the iconic former mayor of Tampa, Dick Greco?
Well, as Katherine Smith of the Tampa Bay Times reports today, Greco and his wife are moving to St. Pete.
“That downtown area, that Beach Drive, it’s incredible,” Greco told Smith.
Of course, Greco says he will still commute daily to Tampa and that it’s still his heart and soul, but that’s really not the point.
Imagine, if you can, Rick Baker folding up shop in St. Pete and moving to Westchase.
You’re right, there will be ice skating in hell before that happens.
But the man who served as mayor of Tampa longer than anyone else has crossed the bridge.
Bob Buckhorn, in typical fashion, had a little fun with the news of Greco’s move. He told Smith, “We’re sending Tampa’s best ambassador over to St. Pete. And they can send us the Rays.”
If you admire Dick Greco as much as I do — and can’t wait to see him strolling along Beach Drive — you’d make that trade six days a week and twice on Sunday.
Welcome to the ‘burg, Mr. Mayor. As for Tampa, it just got pwned by St. Pete.