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Buckhorn talks business, baseball and bicycling in first online town hall meeting



 It’s not what he said. It’s where he said it.

In a first for his administration, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn took to Facebook Tuesday night and spent nearly 45 minutes taking questions from people both inside and outside the city during a live online town hall meeting.

Buckhorn didn’t say anything he hasn’t said before — quite the contrary — but he relished the chance to answer questions on the future of Major League Baseball in Tampa Bay, paying for security at next year’s Republican National Convention, the need for more bicycle lanes, his plans to re-organize top staff at City Hall, and, mostly, his ambition to drive economic development.

“This has flown by,” Buckhorn said toward the end of the session, during which a live video feed showed him sitting in front of the city seal, swigging from a bottle of water between answers. “I want to do more of these, because it’s important to me that I talk to you where you are comfortable and where you get a chance to interact with me.” 

A total of 925 people caught at least part of the broadcast, though the number watching at any one time tended to hover in the 80s or 90s. Questions came in via e-mail and Facebook messages, and Buckhorn offered his thoughts on:

• Baseball: After repeating his oft-repeated promise “not to be the boyfriend” in any St. Petersburg divorce with the Tampa Bay Rays, Buckhorn said he doesn’t envy St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster, who sketched out his plan on baseball Tuesday. Buckhorn said he also understands the financial and emotional investment that St. Petersburg has in the Rays.

But if St. Petersburg is “made whole financially” and the team leaves, then Buckhorn said the region has to decide whether the Rays are a regional asset. The mayor said he thinks it is, and that the only place where a stadium would really work would be downtown Tampa, where it could foster the development of an urban entertainment district. “It’s a game-changer for downtown Tampa,” he said.

That said, Buckhorn conceded that he doesn't “have a clue” how to pay for it. But “the ownership needs to be heavily invested in the stadium,” he said. “The days of stadiums being built totally with public money are over, period, as they should be.” Newer stadiums elsewhere have been built with local governments paying for roads and other infrastructure, he said.

• The Republican National Convention: Buckhorn said a requested $55 million federal allocation for security needs to win congressional approval so that the city can feed, pay and house an estimated 4,000 police officers during the GOP’s convention, which is scheduled to take place at the St. Pete Times Forum from Aug. 27-30, 2012.

While he said the money needs to be allocated soon, he expressed no doubt that the event would be anything but a success.

“This community, when it rallies behind a large event like this, does it as well as anybody in the country,” he said.

• Bike lanes: This subject generated as much discussion in the Facebook comments as anything. Buckhorn supported increasing lanes marked for cyclists, not only to make cycling in the city safer, but to distinguish Tampa as an attractive and “hip” place where young professionals would feel comfortable living near downtown and pedaling to work.

• Economic development. As he did during the campaign, Buckhorn returned to this topic again and again. He said is working to simplify city development regulations, redefine the city’s brand and reorganize City Hall, where he plans to consolidate positions  to create two new deputy mayors for economic development and neighborhood services.

“We can’t grow if we’re not competitive,” he said. “We’re going to be known as a place where people want to do business.”


[Last modified: Tuesday, August 30, 2011 9:30pm]


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