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Hey, St. Petersburg, Tampa here: Can we talk Rays?

"I'm not going to be the boyfriend in your divorce."

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn to St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster two months ago on whether Tampa is waiting in the wings to lure Rays baseball across the bay.

"But I've pined away for her since high school."

— Buckhorn, joking to a columnist this week.

Hey, St. Petersburg. Tampa here.

Listen, buddy, can we talk?

Word is you and the Rays are going through tough times, that you might even be headed for splitsville, that the team is thinking of leaving you unless you pony up fancy new digs like other teams have.

Cold. I feel for you, man.

But in the interest of friendship, hands across the bay and all that, let's get it out on the table.

I said I wouldn't be the boyfriend that wrecks your relationship, that I wouldn't be the cause of your divorce. I stand by that. My mayor stands by that. Which isn't to say I haven't looked. Sure, I've got the Bucs and the Lightning, but baseball's a beautiful thing, too.

So listen. If the worst happens — and I'm not saying it will — would you mind if I, you know …

Give the Rays a call?

By now you've probably heard talk this week of an oh-so-innocent discussion over at the Hillsborough County Commission about (yawn) tax-increment financing, which is using a special taxing district to fund "infrastructure" within that district (yawn again). Commissioner Ken Hagan managed to jerk everyone awake by asking if that sort of thing could be used to help with infrastructure like roads and sewers for, say, a baseball stadium.

And it could. In fact, one such proposed district just happens to include the Florida State Fairgrounds, often mentioned as a potential Rays stadium site in Hillsborough should splitsville occur.

And, suddenly, tax-increment financing doesn't sound so dull!

Actually, St. Petersburg, there are more intriguing locations being talked about in Tampa in and around downtown, one in Channelside, another between downtown and Ybor City and the third just north of downtown proper near where planners envisioned a sprawling development, until the economy so rudely interrupted.

Sorry, that was tacky of me — talking about the future before anything even, you know, happens. Which isn't to say it will!

And, hey, who's to say it would work in Tampa anyway?

Voters suffering through brutal budget cuts are in no mood for a taxpayer-funded stadium like Raymond James, a deal so sweet for the Bucs' owners it's still making everyone's teeth hurt.

And if people weren't angry enough, here comes the news of $7.8 million in apparently contractually obligated public funds to spruce up that stadium next year, nearly half of it for luxury suite improvements. Just what the public wants to hear right about now.

So any (theoretical) deal in Tampa would hinge on what owners and the private sector would be willing to do with the city, some big ifs there.

But isn't keeping the Rays here, here being the Tampa Bay area, better than watching them play far away?

Anyway, St. Petersburg, hope you and the Rays can work this out. Sincerely.

Not interfering here. Just, you know, interested.

Hey, St. Petersburg, Tampa here: Can we talk Rays? 06/09/11 [Last modified: Thursday, June 9, 2011 8:46pm]
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