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Bay cities outgrow sibling rivalry

In the serene, paneled dining room of the University Club, 38 stories above the street, the pillars of downtown Tampa gather for lunch. From their glass-enclosed aerie they have a sweeping panorama of Tampa Bay. To the north and east, Tampa stretches away from them like a checkerboard.

To the south, Harbour Island appears like a giant Monopoly game. New streets and houses dot the island; the people mover spans the channel like a toy train.

And to the west . . . St. Petersburg.

Sister city? Friend? Rival?

The people in this room have much of the power to decide.

Nobody "runs" Tampa in the way it once was run, of course, when a tiny group from the major institutions of commerce and law could decide things.

But the men, and the ever-increasing number of women, who stride through the University Club come pretty close.

When you listen to them talk about St. Petersburg's quest for baseball, and its other struggles, it doesn't sound like they're talking about a rival.

There's a lot of excitement. Every single one of them, when asked, expresses the fervent hope that "we" will succeed.

We. Us. Tampa Bay.

They are curious about St. Petersburg. They want to know what makes it tick.

What's the reaction to the troubles of Bay Plaza? one asks. How's the city taking it? They swap hopeful interpretations of the delay of the baseball decision.

There is not even a hint of rivalry in this luncheon talk, no little clues that the speaker would be happy to see St. Petersburg fail.

"Tampa has closed ranks with St. Petersburg," says Michel G. Emmanuel, a patriarch of one of Tampa's most prominent law firms, Carlton, Fields, Ward, Emmanuel, Smith & Cutler.

Emmanuel, a Tarpon Springs native, remembers when the ranks weren't quite so closed _ when the two cities scrapped over the site of the University of South Florida ("Bottlecap U," the Times sneered at the prospect of a Tampa site), and over which city's airport would become dominant.

At the next table sits David C. G. Kerr, the nicest man with two initials you will ever meet, one of the driving forces behind another powerhouse law firm, MacFarlane, Ferguson, Allison & Kelly. The "MacFac" is part of the Lykes empire.

Kerr was president of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce in the late 1970s, when St. Petersburg came across the bay to ask for Tampa's support for baseball.

Kerr and the Chamber gave it, and continued to give it, even after a push for baseball began to come together in Tampa. The break, Kerr says, didn't come until St. Petersburg insisted on a downtown site.

Kerr asks about the reaction to the baseball news on the west side of the bay, and then expresses concern about Bay Plaza, St. Petersburg's downtown redevelopment project, now clouded by financial troubles of the principals.

"That's bad for all of us," says Kerr. "Anything that affects St. Petersburg affects us, directly."

The talk at the University Club drifts to other things. Some of the people there had spent the morning at a groundbreaking ceremony for Salomon Brothers' new home in Tampa.

Luring Salomon was a triumph for Tampa, which out-wooed dozens of other cities to win the investment firm. Tampa was the only city in the pack that met every single criterion, one club member murmurs to another.

St. Petersburg has not had as many triumphs, and maybe it feels their absence more keenly. In the last head-to-head meeting between the cities in December, Tampa walked away with a National Hockey League franchise. St. Petersburg had backed the wrong horse.

Maybe a red-blooded St. Petersburg resident would find the attitude at the University Club patronizing, the same way a kid brother or sister might feel toward an accomplished sibling.

Maybe rivalry will erupt once again. Maybe there are those Tampa leaders who will quickly switch from speaking of "our" success to "their" failure.

But you couldn't tell it Friday from sitting in the dining room high above downtown Tampa. The sentiment was unanimous:

Hope we get it.