St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman sat down with the Tampa Bay Times on April 24 for a wide-ranging 45-minute interview. He touched on the election of Jane Castor as Tampa’s new mayor, what her election might mean for the Tampa Bay Rays, a new initiative in St. Petersburg to preserve the city’s vibe and also the significance to him of the city’s annual iftar dinner.

Tampa’s mayoral race

Just looking at the numbers, Kriseman said he expected former Tampa police Chief Jane Castor to beat philanthropist and retired banker David Straz in last week’s runoff election. After all, she almost won the election outright in the March primary.

“It was a big hill to try to climb for David Straz,” Kriseman said. “And to overcome that gap — very, very difficult.”

Castor ended up crushing Straz by almost 50 points.

Kriseman said Castor asked him for an endorsement, but since he was close to several candidates, including Straz, he opted to remain neutral.

“I kind of let them all know, right up front, that I’m sitting this one out," Kriseman said.

The mayor did pour a bit of cold water on the head of the state Democratic party calling Castor a “rising star.”

“It’s probably a little premature,” he said, adding, “I think there’s a lot of excitement around her election.”

Castor on the Rays

Castor said she’d like to see the Tampa Bay Rays in Tampa, and thinks it would be “worthwhile” to discuss with Kriseman the possibility of allowing Tampa and Hillsborough County another crack at luring the team over.

The team is contractually obligated to play its home games at Tropicana Field through 2027, but St. Petersburg gave the team three years to explore its options in Hillsborough County. That exploratory period ended at the new year, though, with no plan in place to relocate. That means discussion about the Rays’ future in the Tampa Bay area, at least for now, focuses on St. Petersburg.

Kriseman was dismissive of Castor’s comment, saying it indicated she likely wasn’t boned up on the subject.

“I think if she had been briefed, she might not have made the comments she made, because the city of Tampa and Hillsborough County aren’t really in a position to ask for an extension” to the agreement that allowed the team to explore its options across the bay, Kriseman said.

In the meantime, the mayor said he’s been told by Rays ownership to expect an answer by this summer on whether the team plans to leave the Sunshine city or construct a new stadium and stay beyond 2027.

Storefront conservation

Last month the City Council passed Kriseman’s storefront conservation corridor plan, limiting the size of storefronts along Central Avenue and Beach Drive in a bid to keep out chain businesses and maintain the mom-and-pop and independent feel of the city’s most walked corridors.

It was a big win for a mayor who has touted St. Petersburg as the ultimate destination to “live, work and play.”

“That’s what we’re trying to preserve, is the uniqueness of St. Pete," he said. "Why St. Pete feels different from so many other communities is the mix of businesses and the type of businesses and the size of businesses that exist on Central.”

Chain businesses can come in, they just have to abide by the zoning rules, the mayor said, pointing to Maple Street Biscuit Company as an example of a business with multiple locations that also fits nicely into the environs of Central Avenue.

Kriseman waved off concerns that limiting the sizes of businesses could cause property values to go down, as landlords wouldn’t have the freedom to charge more rent for larger spaces. Or that small businesses hoping to expand would be prevented from doing so, as the ordinance has a built-in variance process.

“The reason that you’re seeing the increases in property values is because it’s become so desirable. this is where businesses want to be," he said. "And if you change that character and you destroy that character, that’s what’s going to impact your property values.”

Iftar dinner

When Kriseman walked into the city’s first iftar dinner, full of people of all faiths coming together in peace, “it was one of the coolest moments in my time as mayor,” he said.

Later this month, St. Petersburg’s Muslim leaders and the mayor will host the city’s third annual dinner, named for the meal Muslims eat at night to break bread after a day of fasting during the holy month of Ramadan. It’s scheduled for May 29 at 7 p.m. at the Coliseum. The event is free, though registration closes May 15.

He said the dinner celebrates the diversity of St. Petersburg, and commemorates an important religious community within the city. And for Kriseman, that first dinner was a milestone.

“In my time as mayor, there have been a couple things that have been really magical. I got goose bumps, I got teary-eyed,“ he said. One was the candlelight vigil after the Pulse massacre. Another was the Women’s March. The third? "The iftar dinner. Those are three examples that I will never forget when I leave this job.”

Contact Josh Solomon at [email protected] or (813) 909-4613. Follow @ByJoshSolomon.