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Update to this post: The Tampa Bay Partnership explains that St. Petersburg Mayor Foster did participate in an evening dinner related to the conference but could not make the mayor's panel due to a change in his schedule. Maybe next year?

A couple of stories covering the recent "super regional" conference of April 29 at the Tampa Convention Center, the third such annual meeting discussing the Tampa Bay-Orlando morph into a Central Florida mega region a few decades from now, focused on a panel of mayors talking about the future. Here's what the Tampa Bay Partnership, the local sponsor says of the mayoral panel:

A particular highlight of this year's conference was the Mayors' Panel following former mayor of Pittsburgh, Tom Murphy's luncheon keynote on "Economic Reinvention: A Must, Not an Option." On the panel was Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn (top left), Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard (right), Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer (below, left) and Tom Murphy (below, right). The panelists engaged in captivating conversation on topics critical to economic development within Florida's Super Region such as job creation, technology and innovation, transportation and infrastructure, tourism, the importance of branding, and the need for a vision and collaboration among leaders and citizens.

Indeed, the Gulf Coast Business Review also focused on this quartet of mayors in this story. You can even watch the panel in a series of YouTube videos from the meeting. The bottom line, perhaps best articulated locally by Mayor Hibbard, was that cities need to be willing to take some economic development risks, as Clearwater did in building BeachWalk and as it and other cities should do in renewing the pursuit of light rail mass transit. Murphy, recalling when he was Pittsburgh's mayor, offered a good line: Did I want to continue to "manage decline" of my city or invest in the future?

The key, Murphy told the conference, is that cities and mayors are empowered to take risks when the business community rallies around them.

That's all swell. Here's my question. In a major annual meeting on super regionalism, we have mayors from Tampa, Clearwater and Orlando. Where was St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster, or at least a stand-in? (See update at top of this posting.) That absence spoke louder than if he had attended and, unfortunately, reminded us all of the splinter effect of Tampa Bay's tri-city structure. Hard to be serious when only 2/3 of the area's major cities show up.

-- Robert Trigaux, Business Columnist, St. Petersburg Times

Posted by Robert Trigaux at 3:14:45 pm on May 11, 2011