TAMPA — Mayor Bob Buckhorn said Tuesday he has no interest in taking Major League Baseball from St. Petersburg.
In his first remarks about the Tampa Bay Rays since taking office this month, Buckhorn said he recently told St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster that he could talk with the Rays without worrying that Tampa is waiting in the wings with a stadium deal.
"I'm not going to be the boyfriend in your divorce," Buckhorn said he told Foster.
The new mayor spoke about the Rays during a question-and-answer session at a Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce luncheon. He also talked about Gov. Rick Scott, whom he said he could work with if they ever find common ground, and the importance to Tampa of hosting the 2012 Republican National Convention.
Buckhorn's stance on the Rays was consistent with what he said during the campaign, when he predicted there will never be a taxpayer-funded stadium deal like the one that built Raymond James Stadium for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
In the three weeks since taking office, Buckhorn has spent "zero" time on the issue, he said in an interview later on Tuesday.
"In this period, until that divorce occurs — if it occurs — the city of Tampa doesn't have a role," he said. "I don't intend to be a participant in that. They've got a relationship. They've got to resolve that relationship."
Foster has said he will fight any efforts to move the Rays from St. Petersburg.
If St. Petersburg and the Rays did part ways, Buckhorn said the region would have to decide whether the team is a regional asset worth keeping and pursuing.
"My personal opinion (is) that the answer to that is, 'yes,' " he said. "We ought to do everything we can to make sure the Rays stay in the Tampa Bay area."
Hypothetically, he said, if the team looked at Tampa, he would prefer a downtown site.
"Urban stadiums can have a huge economic impact," he said. "They can revitalize a downtown."
Over the past five years, the model for such projects elsewhere has included significant ownership money — "and I underline significant," Buckhorn said — plus private equity money and public help on infrastructure improvements such as roads, water and sewer lines.
For example, he said, local officials could set up a tax-increment financing district around a new stadium. They could use the additional property tax revenue generated by new hotels, restaurants and stores built near the stadium to repay infrastructure bonds.
Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce chairman Chuck Sykes has said the chamber will study baseball stadium financing this year, but Buckhorn said that effort is "totally removed from me."
Nor, he said, is he being pushed to get involved in the issue.
"When the subject comes up, I find people to be excited about the possibilities, but it doesn't go beyond that," Buckhorn said. "No one has really sat down and crunched the numbers and figured out exactly what it would take to get a deal like that done."
Beyond baseball, Buckhorn gave a light, humor-filled speech that was heavy on the theme of Tampa as a city rising. He encouraged community involvement and activism and promised to be a tireless champion for jobs and growth.
He chose his words carefully when an audience member asked if he has had a chance to speak with Gov. Rick Scott — he hasn't — and what he would say if he did.
Buckhorn praised Scott's focus on job growth and creation. But he blasted the governor and the Republican-controlled Legislature for decisions to cut programs and services while also limiting local governments' ability to raise taxes.
"The problem doesn't go away," Buckhorn said. "… Shame on you."
Despite the criticism, Buckhorn said he is looking forward to Tampa hosting thousands of Republicans when delegates come here for the 2012 presidential convention.
He noted that 15,000 journalists will be attending, providing an unusual opportunity to show off the city.
"They may not let me in, but I'm going to be the best darn host the city has ever had," Buckhorn said, joking about his Democratic Party affiliation.
Times staff writer Richard Danielson contributed to this report. Tia Mitchell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3405.