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Carlton: A mayoral lovefest? Just don't say "Tampa Bay"

So the New York Times just gave serious props to these parts in its list of "52 Places To Go In 2014." And with it, maybe there's a sign of a sea change in our cities.

Besides taking in the beauty of the Albanian Coast, remembering Nelson Mandela in Cape Town and having a hip nosh in downtown L.A., you simply must see St. Petersburg, the Times says.

Yes, St. Petersburg, Florida. Where did you think?

St. Pete wowed 'em with its waterfront, "stunning" Dali Museum, sophisticated restaurants and rocking craft beer scene. Okay, so the accompanying photo online shows a dead deer head over a bunch of beer taps. It still beats that tired old green bench image.

However, you will read nary a mention of Tampa or even Tampa Bay — that sweeping regional catch-all that actually refers to a body of water. "Tampa Bay" tends to leave St. Petersburgians in the dust when it comes to national exposure.

So how does Bob Buckhorn, mayor of the bigger, badder city across the bridge, the one with the chops to attract Super Bowls, a Republican National Convention and this year's Bollywood Oscars, feel about that big air-kiss to St. Pete?

For the record, Buckhorn has on occasion while Over There found himself muttering expletives about things he wishes his city had, like that green ribbon of waterfront or a downtown thoroughly established as a place to live and play. So some sister city jealousy, perhaps?

Perhaps not.

"I think it's great," he says of St. Pete's big mention. "It adds to the panache." Doesn't hurt that visitors will likely come through Tampa International Airport (in Tampa), he says.

As it turns out, brand new St. Pete mayor Rick Kriseman and Buckhorn have been friends for 20 years. Kriseman's already sought Buckhorn's advice on things like balancing family and the job.

"I think he and I are committed to the same thing," Buckhorn says. "He's a good guy."

Clearly basking in the NYT buzz, Kriseman says his city is well past the old identity crisis. And when St. Pete's doing well, he says, it's good for Tampa and vice versa.

"When it comes to getting things done, you have to start thinking more regionally," says the new mayor, who is already dealing with getting a new police chief, transit, the future of the Pier and of course, the Tampa Bay Rays. Speaking of which.

Kriseman wants to be clear: He would like the Rays to stay put in St. Pete and would like to see what can be done to get them to do that. He has also said he plans to protect taxpayers.

Failing that staying-put part, he also says the Rays are "a regional asset."

Buckhorn used those very words on sports radio Friday in talk of keeping the team "in the bay area." In downtown Tampa, if he had his druthers.

There's also talk of cooperation beyond baseball.

"I think there's opportunities for partnership between our two cities maybe we didn't look at before," says Kriseman — promoting the region as a health sciences mecca, maybe working together to improve transportation. A water taxi, even.

Kriseman likes Tampa ("a very pretty city, too," he says diplomatically), shops International Plaza, dines at Bern's and Donatello. He gets bigger points, though, for going as often as possible to a corner joint in West Tampa called La Ideal for the stellar Cuban sandwiches.

So in the tale of two cities, are we in it together?

"The days of us fighting over stupid lines on a map and bridges are over," Buckhorn says. Presumably even that one over "Tampa Bay."

Carlton: A mayoral lovefest? Just don't say "Tampa Bay" 01/17/14 [Last modified: Friday, January 17, 2014 5:27pm]
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