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Tampa and the Rays: Not the boyfriend in the divorce, but a suitor in waiting?

TAMPA — Mayor Bob Buckhorn said again Friday he has no intention to be the boyfriend in any divorce between St. Petersburg and the Tampa Bay Rays.

That said, he keeps mentioning how hot the wife is.

In an interview on WDAE 620-AM, Buckhorn even said the Rays' stadium, if not in St. Petersburg, "needs to be in downtown Tampa."

"I've also been vocal about not wanting to get in the middle of whatever is taking place down there," Buckhorn said during a four-minute interview. "That financial relationship has to be resolved in one way, shape or form."

Then he added: "If the divorce occurs, I think the Rays are a regional asset that we need to keep, and I've said from day one, long before anyone cared what I said, that downtown Tampa is the best place for them.

"I think the economic opportunities around an urban baseball stadium are huge. Huge. It would transform downtown Tampa like nothing we could ever imagine."

This is entirely consistent with what Buckhorn has said since the mayor's race a year ago.

It also can be seen as a little flirty, especially when he muses — as he did — about how a downtown baseball stadium could boost Tampa the way Camden Yards has enlivened Baltimore.

"I can see an awful lot of commercial, retail and hotels springing up around an urban stadium," Buckhorn said. "The Riverwalk works, the trolley works, the parking garages in Ybor City work. It's a good fit. It's a natural fit, but again, until the divorce occurs, I'm not going to be the boyfriend in the divorce."

Told of Buckhorn's comment, St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster shrugged.

"It's absolutely nothing new in what he said on the air and what he's said to me personally," he said.

When asked about Buckhorn's insistence that he's not interfering, Foster chuckled.

"There's always a 'but' in there," he said. "I'm used to it."

As for Buckhorn's claim that the Rays stadium "needs to be in downtown Tampa," Foster didn't object.

"From Buddy Dyer saying Orlando is best, to Bob Buckhorn saying Tampa is best, to Bill Foster saying St. Petersburg is best, that's what mayors do," he said.

He said he and Buckhorn will meet next week to talk about a variety of issues.

"This might be a topic we'll discuss," he said.

Earlier this week, Buckhorn told the Tampa Bay Times he is not doing anything or talking to anyone about baseball.

"I think Bill Foster's going to try to put together some marketing program to help put butts in the seats, and I told him I'd be more than happy to help," he said. "We talked the last time we saw each other, and I said I'm more than happy to help in whatever way, shape or form I can."

And in the WDAE interview, Buckhorn repeated that St. Petersburg has a contract with the Rays, "and if anybody else gets in the middle of that contract, you can get sued for tortious interference."

"We have to recognize that legally binding document," Buckhorn said. "And if the divorce takes place, it'll be between those two principals. Now Mayor Foster has got a lot of debt on that stadium that he needs to be made whole on. The citizens of St. Pete have to be made whole on it."

But. (As Foster said, there's always a "but.")

"Once that happens, if it happens, then I think the discussions will take place," Buckhorn said. "We're ready to put our best minds to it if given the opportunity. We just want to keep the Rays here and we want the Rays to be successful."

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Richard Danielson can be reached at Danielson@tampabay.com, (813) 226-3403 or @Danielson_Times on Twitter. Michael Van Sickler can be reached at mvansickler@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8037.

Tampa and the Rays: Not the boyfriend in the divorce, but a suitor in waiting? 02/17/12 [Last modified: Friday, February 17, 2012 11:23pm]
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