TAMPA — When they run into him over lunch at Ybor City’s Casa Santo Stefano — or recognize him in his shamrock green pants at the St. Patrick’s Day fest he created while in office — people still call Bob Buckhorn “mayor.”
But these days, Buckhorn is busy getting ensconced in his new private-sector role as an economic and urban development advisor with a 28th floor downtown view of the city.
Along with former St. Petersburg mayor Rick Kriseman — and other ex-office holders before them — Buckhorn recently joined the firm of Shumaker Advisors Florida, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Shumaker law firm. The new job focuses on urban development strategies and economic development opportunities — topics familiar from his previous place of employment.
A conversation with the former mayor about his new role in a fast developing city, and what’s next for Tampa.
After 2 ½ years out of the mayor’s office, you’ve joined Shumaker Advisors Florida. So what exactly are you doing there?
Public affairs, strategy consulting, urban development. But you’re never going to see me turn up at the City Council lobbying. Hypothetically — because I just got there — major development projects coming into the region, companies moving here. Both Mayor Kriseman and I are in a unique position in helping to guide people and avoid the pot holes. I think there’s some value in those hard lessons learned and knowing how things began and where we’re going.
Whether it’s Midtown development, Tropicana, a Gas Worx-type project ... those are the types of projects I’d like to be involved in. Those are just examples of the kind of scale I would enjoy. And not just in Tampa. There are lessons learned here transferable to other cities. I anticipate spending time working with mayors across the country.
Shumaker has plenty of land-use lawyers to do the nitty-gritty transactions, but having a sherpa to help guide you I think is helpful — especially for major developments or major employers looking to relocate here.
Any major employers looking to relocate here? Want to say who?
After your time away from work, was it hard to put on a tie and pocket square again, or did you miss them?
I was quite content in my Crocs and camo or my fishing shirts. But I realized after two years I’m not cut out to just do hobbies — a lot of fishing, a lot of hunting, a lot of sporting clays. I spent a lot of time with my family. It was fun, a good time to recharge my batteries. Now it’s time to go back to work and see what the next chapter looks like.
You’re seeing Tampa from a different perspective. How’s that look from a downtown high-rise as opposed to City Hall?
It’s amazing. I guess I never really in the eight years as the mayor got a chance to take a breath and look around. Now that I get a chance to walk around and see the transformation of the city, it’s nothing less than astounding.
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Is it a good view from your 28th floor office in the Bank of America building?
I look over Water Street (the developing urban community downtown). I can see at a distance what Darryl Shaw (retiring CEO of the BluePearl veterinary company with an extensive Ybor City real estate development portfolio) is going to do. I can see some of the seeds I planted coming to fruition, and that’s pretty cool.
Yeah, I’ve got a good view.
What do you think of the transformative changes in downtown Tampa, particularly Water Street?
I walked down there (recently). If you kind of eavesdrop on people, inevitably what you hear are two things: “I never knew this existed” or, if they’d been here before, “Damn, what happened?”
How’s the city doing, and where do you see it going?
We’re clearly on an upward trajectory. I don’t think the momentum has stilled. We’ve completely reversed the flow of young people leaving the city. We’re a destination now. We’re on the radar of every corporate relocation, every real estate transaction, every private equity fund.
So what has to happen for Tampa to hit the next step?
You’re never done in the city building business. The key is to never forget you’re competing and never take your foot off the gas. If you devolve into dysfunction, other cities will steal that momentum we’ve built up over these years.
I think we deal with the challenges of growth and the infrastructure inadequacies. If we learn the lessons of cities that have experienced this kind of growth — mainly Austin and Atlanta — if we do that as a community, I think we’ll be fine.
There has never been a moment for this city like we are experiencing right now. I’ve been saying it for a decade: If we do it, Tampa will be the economic engine south of Atlanta that will drive the southeast.
The inevitable question: Do you see yourself back in politics?
I don’t anticipate it and I’m not doing anything to prepare for it. But I also never say never.
I am lucky enough to get the only job I ever wanted (Tampa mayor.) I walked away a grateful guy and a satisfied guy. But I also worked too hard to see this community be moved in a different direction... to dismantle the progress we’ve made.
But no, I don’t anticipate doing that.
Are you saying if someone was poised to take over who you thought would be detrimental, you’d consider running again?