Make us your home page
Instagram

Cuban officials touring St. Petersburg this weekend as they eye consulate location

The Cuban consular general and his second in command were in town Saturday to tour St. Petersburg, shown here from just south of downtown with Fourth Street running north.

LOREN ELLIOTT | Times

The Cuban consular general and his second in command were in town Saturday to tour St. Petersburg, shown here from just south of downtown with Fourth Street running north.

Tampa has the historic and cultural link to Cuba, but it might be St. Petersburg that lands the first Cuban Consulate in the United States in more than five decades.

Alejandro Padrón, Cuba's consular general from its embassy in Washington, D.C., and his second in command, Armando Bencomo, were in St. Petersburg on Saturday and took a tour of its real estate assets that was led by Dave Goodwin, the city's director of planning and economic development.

Such a tour did not take place in Tampa.

"They have some interest in our city and they want to get to know more about it," said Joni James, CEO of the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership, which along with the University of South Florida's Patel College of Global Sustainability sponsored the delegation's trip.

"We are happy to help them learn what a great place it would be to have a consulate."

Kanika Tomalin, the deputy mayor of St. Petersburg, described the tour as "pretty comprehensive" but did not provide specifics on where they visited.

"They will understand what the city can offer their goals," she said.

There is competition between Tampa and St. Petersburg to host the Cuban Consulate.

The Tampa City Council, Hills- borough County Commission and Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce have voted in favor of bringing the consulate to their community.

The chamber also sent a delegation to Cuba in May 2015.

Each has heavily promoted that Tampa and Cuba share a connection dating to the founding of Ybor City in the late 1800s by immigrants from the island nation.

Later, Tampa was a staging ground for Cuba's War of Independence against colonialist Spain. And with Cuban tobacco, Tampa would go on to become Cigar City.

But the St. Petersburg City Council voted for a consulate to open in that city as well.

The St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership also sent two delegations to Cuba in the past year and welcomed one from the island nation to its city in December.

Perhaps most importantly, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman has established a personal relationship with the Cuban government through two trips to the island nation.

On one of those he met with Gustavo Machin, deputy director for American affairs at the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the agency that will decide which U.S. city gets the first Cuban Consulate.

No Tampa elected officials have met with that agency.

"We are honored to welcome these dignitaries to St. Petersburg and continue the conversation we started nearly one year ago," Kriseman said via text message while on vacation.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn was also on vacation and could not be reached for comment.

Buckhorn previously has said that while he would not stop a Cuban Consulate from opening in Tampa, he would not lend his support to such an endeavor until the communist nation shows evidence of increased freedoms.

Tampa City Councilwoman Yvonne Capin believes Buckhorn's attitude is hurting her city's chances to get the consulate.

"It is very sad that our mayor has been AWOL on this subject. Cuba is part of this city's history. He doesn't seem to understand that," she said.

"I commend Mayor Kriseman for picking up the baton that Mayor Buckhorn let go and working to keep the Cuban Consulate in our area."

There has been no Cuban Consulate in the United States since diplomatic relations were severed in 1961. Now that they are re-established, the island nation is seeking a city to again host a consulate.

Cuba's embassy in Washington, D.C., serves its nation's political interests. Among the duties of a consulate would be issuing visas and promoting and assisting with trade and other business ventures. Beyond that, Capin said, it will bring international recognition to whatever city lands the first.

"The world is closely watching improving relationship between the U.S. and Cuba," she said.

Florida, with the highest Cuban American population in the United States, will likely receive the first consulate in the nation.

Miami has the most Cuban American residents but its mayor, Tomás Regalado, has said a consulate is not welcome in his city.

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine has traveled to Cuba and met with the same officials as Kriseman did. But the Miami Beach Commission recently voted 4-3 to oppose the idea of a consulate.

Bill Carlson, president of Tucker Hall, a public relations agency in Tampa that has supported business and humanitarian missions in Cuba since 1999, commends St. Petersburg's elected officials for pushing for the consulate.

"Kriseman is emerging as the mayor of the Tampa Bay region," Carlson said. "Connecting our region to Cuba is the first big step toward making us a global destination."

Contact Paul Guzzo at pguzzo@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3394. Follow @PGuzzoTimes.

Cuban officials touring St. Petersburg this weekend as they eye consulate location 07/30/16 [Last modified: Saturday, July 30, 2016 11:18pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Trigaux: Halfway through 2017, a closer look at six drivers of the Tampa Bay economy

    Business

    We're nearly halfway through 2017 already, a perfect time to step back from the daily grind of business and ask: How's Tampa Bay's economy doing?

    Is there one theme or idea that captures the Tampa Bay brand? Not really but here's one possibility. The fun-loving annual Gasparilla "Invasion" of Tampa is captured in this photo of 
The Jose Gasparilla loaded with pirates of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla on its way this past January to the Tampa Convention Center. In the future a vibrant downtown Tampa or St. Petersburg may be the better theme. [CHRIS URSO   |   Times]
  2. Will new laws protect condo owners from apartment conversions and rogue associations?

    Real Estate

    Danny Di Nicolantonio has lived in St. Petersburg's Calais Village Condominums for 33 years. Annoyed at times by the actions, or inaction, of the condo board and property managers, he has complained to the state agency that is supposed to investigate.

    That has left him even more annoyed.

    A bill passed by the Florida Legislature would affect places like The Slade in Tampa's Channelside district, where cCondominium owners have battled a plan to convert homes into apartments.
[Times file photo]
  3. Walmart opens first Pinellas County in-house training academy

    Retail

    Seminole — It had all the hallmarks of a typical graduation: robe-clad graduates marching in to Pomp and Circumstance, friends and family packed together under a sweltering tent and a lineup of speakers encouraging the graduates to take charge of their future.

    New Walmart Academy graduates are congratulated Thursday morning by associates during a graduation ceremony at the Walmart store, 10237 Bay Pines Boulevard, St. Petersburg. The Walmart location is one of the company's training academies where managers complete a one week retail course. David Shultz and Richard Sheehan, both from St. Petersburg, get high fives from the crowd.
[SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]

  4. Lawsuit: Florida contractor fakes death to dodge angry homeowners

    Human Interest

    SEMINOLE — For weeks, Glenn Holland, 67, crawled out of bed before the sun rose to look for a dead man.

    Last year Glenn and Judith Holland said they paid a contractor thousands of dollars to renovate their future retirement home in Seminole. But when they tried to move in on Dec. 14, they said the home was in shambles and uninhabitable. They sent a text message to contractor Marc Anthony Perez at 12:36 p.m. looking for answers. Fourteen minutes later, they got back this text: "This is Marc's daughter, dad passed away on the 7th of December in a car accident. Sorry." Turns out Perez was still alive. Now the Hollands are suing him in Pinellas-Pasco circuit court. [LARA CERRI   |   Times]
  5. Owners to level Port Richey flea market but may rebuild

    Public Safety

    PORT RICHEY — The owners of the recently shuttered USA Flea Market have agreed to demolish all structures on the property, leaving open the possibility of rebuilding the weekend shopping attraction, according to Pasco County officials.

    Pasco County officials shut down the USA Flea Market after it received hundreds of citations for health and code violations.