Otto: Tampa’s Burgermeister has big visions for downtown
Mayor Bob, freshly back from a trade mission to Germany and standing in front of the Exchange Club of Tampa on Monday, was on a roll. “I met with the mayor of Munich, who said he was actually the lord mayor and that he was the uber Burgermeister. I told my wife that I was the uber Burgermeister of Tampa, and she told me to take out the trash.’’ It was obvious the uber mayor was feeling his oats, claiming the city was still the talk of the world following its handling of the Republican National Convention. As he outlined a broader vision for the city’s future, there was even a little teaser about baseball. The mayor didn’t exactly say the Boston bombings didn’t happen here during the RNC because of our strategy of locking the city down, but he did suggest the ends justified the means. He added that the cameras that went up for the RNC will be staying.
Buckhorn stressed that his vision was to go west, making the river the core of downtown with projects on the west bank that will include demolishing the public housing, reworking Julian Lane Park and focusing on those neighborhoods.
He used the armory, soon-to-be redeveloped by the Jewish Community Center, as the western anchor of his focus. He mentioned that he hoped the soon-to-be-completed Riverwalk would one day run all the way to North Boulevard.
“I think if we’ve learned any lessons in the tough times we’ve been through it’s that we can’t base an economy on one or two things such as real estate. If we are going to compete with the other rising Sunbelt cities, we are going to need sustainable growth that is authentic. We need our kids to want to stay here, and they are only going to do that if we offer a rich variety of opportunities as well as a quality of life.’’
Naturally, during the question-and-answer period, one of the first questions was about baseball, or more specifically what were we doing to bring the Rays here.
The mayor explained the legal mumbo jumbo about not getting too involved. But he made no bones about the city being ready and even suggested what might be a good location for “some kind of recreational facility.’’
“Nobody wants it in the suburbs,’’ he said. “Stadiums don’t do that much for the economy out there. If you look at RJ (Raymond James Stadium) and tell me what it’s done for the city, about all you get is Chilis and the Mons Venus.’’
He nodded toward the ConAgra flour mill just beyond Channelside and wondered what kind of change having 20,000-25,000 fans there for more than 80 games a year would create. Of course, the plant is still open and supplies much of the flour to area bakeries, but we are talking baseball and that’s even more dough.
He added the city’s debt on the Tampa Convention Center will be up in two years, freeing up about $100 million in credit. You could see the mayor adding up the figures for a domed stadium if the owners kicked in around $600 million and it became pretty clear what he sees happening in a few years.
It all sounded ambitious, but then he is Tampa’s uber Burgermeister.