TAMPA — Even as Mayor Bob Buckhorn tries to shift the city’s economy toward tech-savvy young people, Tampa is offering older folks more reasons to come here than any big city in America, a new study says.
The city ranks No. 1 among the nation’s 150 largest on 2014’s “Best and Worst Places to Retire” from the financial social media site Wallethub.com.
That may seem like a contradiction for a town whose mayor has touted the growing appeal of Tampa — especially the downtown area — as a place for young professionals to live, work and play.
But Buckhorn, the city’s ultimate cheerleader, greeted the study’s No. 1 ranking as an affirmation of Tampa’s growing attraction for out-of-towners of all ages.
“I’ll take No. 1 in anything that’s positive,” he said.
Retirees bring financial stability, the mayor said, along with positive life experiences they can share with the millennials the city is chasing.
“These aren’t folks that are necessarily heading to the blue plate special at 4 o’clock,” Buckhorn said. “These are folks that have disposable income and have been successful elsewhere. Having folks like that choose to live in Tampa can only benefit the millennials that moved here in droves.”
Rounding out the Top 5 in the Wallethub study are Sunbelt cities Grand Prairie, Texas, Orlando, St. Petersburg and Scottsdale, Arizona.
At the bottom of the list are urban giants Providence, Rhode Island, Newark, New Jersey, Philadelphia, New York and Chicago.
This is the first year that Wallethub has ranked retirement cities, said the study’s writer, Richie Bernardo. Cities are the focus of the study, not larger metropolitan areas. Tampa, with about 353,000 people, accounts for about 27 percent of Hillsborough County’s 1.29 million people.
Wallethub uses five criteria in arriving at its rankings, with four of them given a weight of five points — Affordability, Activities, Quality of Life and Health Care. Jobs is weighted two points.
Tampa isn’t tops in any one of the five categories, but the city ranks No. 3 in Activities and No. 9 in Affordability. It’s tied with St. Petersburg in the Affordability ranking.
City Councilman and Tampa native Charlie Miranda said it makes sense that retirees would be drawn to Tampa. The city enjoys great weather, a state-of-the-art airport and is 20-45 minutes from the beach.
“We have Busch Gardens, the (Lowry Park) zoo. And we’re getting better every day in parks and pools,” Miranda said. “We’re heading in the right direction.”
Tampa also rates a mention in one of the seven sub-categories of rankings provided by Wallethub — Fishing Facilities. All the top five cities in this ranking, in fact, are in Florida: Fort Lauderdale, Miami, St. Petersburg, Cape Coral and Tampa.
With its sunshine and affordable housing options, Florida is the original retirement mecca for people leaving their work careers behind in northern and Midwestern states.
But Miranda said Tampa offers up other, less-quantifiable qualities: friendliness and a unique ethnic mix he calls “vegetable soup” and Buckhorn calls paella, a Spanish dish popular locally built around rice and seafood.
“It’s a mixture of all kinds of people together making it what it is,” Miranda said. “We respect everybody, we all get along and we’re all trying to make it a better place, and that’s what it’s all about.”