Buckhorn: St. Petersburg mayor’s race could make difference in whether Rays stay or leave
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said Tuesday he thinks the outcome of the St. Petersburg mayor’s race between Mayor Bill Foster and challenger Rick Kriseman could tip the scales on whether the Tampa Bay Rays stay in the bay area or leave for another market. His remarks came during an interview on a wide range of topics at his office in Tampa City Hall. Here is an edited transcript:
Q — We have a poll in the paper today indicating that more residents of St. Petersburg think the Rays ought to be allowed to look in Tampa. What do you think the significance of that is?
Buckhorn — I think it’s a recognition of the reality, and the reality is that it doesn’t work at its current location. And I think the voters get it. They realize that. They may not like the thought of losing the Rays from St. Pete, but they recognize that if the attendance is bad, we’re going to lose them somewhere and they would prefer that (the team) stay in the Tampa Bay area, so they’re willing to allow them to look. It’s the same conclusion most of us came to a long time ago.
Q — What is the city of Tampa doing right now? What are you doing right now?
Buckhorn — Still waiting for the city of St. Pete and the Rays to come to some agreement that would allow them to look.
Q — And do you hear that they’re making any progress?
Buckhorn — No, I hear they’re making zero progress. Nothing has changed. From the day that Mayor Foster said that he said he would allow them to look to here we are six months later, four months later, whatever it is, absolutely nothing has changed. There has been no movement at all.
Q — Do you think the mayor’s race is going to make any difference over there in how this matter is negotiated?
Buckhorn — Yeah. I do.
Q — How so?
Buckhorn — Well, there hasn’t been any progress so far, so it can’t get any worse. And if there is a new mayor, then perhaps with this polling data, with the recognition that we may lose the Rays to some other jurisdiction, I’m hopeful that there will be some movement.
Q — If the mayor’s office doesn’t change, then what do you think will happen?
Buckhorn — I think we could lose the Rays.
Q — And if the mayor’s office does change, you think the prospects are better?
Buckhorn — Just based on what I have witnessed so far it can’t be any worse.
Q — So who you do you want to see win over there?
Buckhorn — (Laughs.) I’m not getting involved. All I care about is having a good partner over there for the region.
Q — Do you have a good partner over there for the region?
Buckhorn — I think on many issues, yeah. I think on this one, clearly not. I just don’t want the Rays to leave, and I think we all have to recognize that it’s just not working over there, and will never work.
Q — … and will never work as long as?
Buckhorn — As long as they’re at that location, in that facility.
Q — So who do you think’s going to win the race over there?
Buckhorn — Based on your polling data, it looks like Kriseman’s got a lead. … I think a lot could depend on who’s got the best ground game and who can turn out their voters. I think the performance of the African-American community is going to be significant in determining the winner. But certainly all the polls I have seen seem to indicate that Mr. Kriseman has a lead.
Q — So if Foster wins, what do you do with regard to the Rays? Do you just sit and wait? Do you just sit on your hands and fume?
Buckhorn — No, I’m not fuming. … I’ve got plenty on my plate to keep me busy. I think certainly in the business community there is a frustration that more progress has not been made. I think the business community and I think most people recognized a long time ago that it’s not working there and it’s never going to work and there is a possibility that it could work here. But until the mayor and the city of St. Pete come to some agreement we are all literally running in place. We can’t do anything. We can’t interfere with that contract.
Q — So if Foster wins, what do you do on this issue?
Buckhorn — I think we continue to encourage some resolution. I think we continue to do whatever we can to help him live up to what he said he was going to do which is to allow them to look elsewhere, and to encourage those negotiations to take place and to push and to prod and to do whatever we have to do to try to make that happen. The more time we waste, the more challenging it becomes, the more frustrated Major League Baseball gets. Ticket sales aren’t seemingly improving. We can’t continue to coexist like this because it’s going to fail.
Q — And if Kriseman wins what do you do on this?
Buckhorn — I will reach out to him to help him in any way I can. This is a regional issue. This is not a St. Pete-specific issue, and the success of our region depends on mayors willing to put aside parochial interests for the greater good. And I think Rick will approach this with an open mind. He recognizes, because he’s been on the campaign trail for eight months now, that folks want to find a conclusion. The patient’s sick, and we’ve got to fix it.
Q — In past interviews we’ve done, I’ve heard you say you also recognize the spot that Foster’s in. He’s got to be made whole (if the Rays leave the Trop before the end of their lease).
Buckhorn — Yeah, but until they start those discussions, we don’t know. You can’t even get to the made whole part of the equation until they figure out whether coming over here would make sense. Until they’re allowed to do that, you can’t even really have any further discussions. I think that the redevelopment potential of that site is tremendous. And I think the sooner they move on it the better because of the way the market is.
Q — The Trop?
Buckhorn — The Trop site. I think you could create an entire live work and play on that site. You look at Jabil. Jabil’s looking for a new headquarters. You look at the demand for residential living. You look at the fact that St. Pete’s downtown is doing well. I think you could take that site and produce significantly more income for the city of St. Pete than what they currently reap as a result of the stadium being there.