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Rays link fates of St. Petersburg and Tampa, council chairmen say

Ed Montanari and Guido Maniscalco riff on baseball, home rule and transit issues in their respective cities.
St. Petersburg City Council chairman Ed Montanari discussed bay area issues with Tampa City Council chairman Guido Maniscalco on Friday at the Oxford Exchange.
St. Petersburg City Council chairman Ed Montanari discussed bay area issues with Tampa City Council chairman Guido Maniscalco on Friday at the Oxford Exchange. [ Charlie Frago ]
Published Apr. 9
Updated Apr. 29

TAMPA — Ed Montanari is the Republican chairman of a Democratic City Council in a city notable for its shift to the left over the last decade. Guido Maniscalco, a Democrat, runs the Tampa City Council in what has long been a Democratic town.

The two council chairmen riffed about their cities and a myriad of issues confronting them, before a crowd of several dozen at a Café con Tampa Friday morning at the Oxford Exchange.

The upshot? Things are good, but the two biggest cities in Tampa Bay need more progress on transit, affordable housing and a solution for the Tampa Bay Rays ballpark search.

While hawking the charms of their respective cities, they agreed that Rays baseball was an important asset for the region. Neither, though, had any magic potion to solve what has been an intractable problem for the bay area since 2007.

Although they both nodded to the challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic that has ripped through their cities, the dislocation of the last 13 months wasn’t much on their minds or those asking them questions.

Mayor Rick Kriseman’s plan to redevelop Tropicana Field’s 86 acres has a serious flaw, Montanari said: the lack of participation by the Rays.

Montanari said he has invited Rays executives to the next City Council meeting on April 15 to gauge their intentions.

The Rays plan to move to Tampa fell apart in confusion and acrimony in December 2018. Maniscalco said, at the time, he loved the concept, but balked at the nearly $1 billion stadium cost.

Nothing much has changed for him.

“I’m not going to support a sales tax or any other fee for a stadium,” Maniscalco said Friday to some applause. “They’re going to have to pony up — pay for the bulk of it.”

Tallahassee’s recent moves to limit cities’ home rule powers also sparked discussion.

Maniscalco said the state’s preemption of the city’s tree ordinance or his own attempt to ban the controversial “conversion therapy” being used on LGBTQ residents were erased by state overreach and judicial review.

St. Petersburg has been frustrated by state preemption efforts, too, Montanari said. But he said some state moves have been good, mentioning its intervention in rideshare regulations.

His city’s inability to regulate short-term vacation rentals by neighborhood has been “very frustrating,” Montanari said. Some neighborhoods want Air BnB and other rental services in their neighborhoods. Others don’t, he said.

“It would be very helpful for us to have the capability to deal with some of these complex issues,” Montanari said.

Both chairmen agreed that their cities need to support the Crossbay Ferry and other ways to improve the region’s transportation network.

And they told their stories of their cities. Montanari, an airline pilot, noted that St. Petersburg invented commercial air transportation.

Maniscalco, a descendant of Cuban and Sicilian immigrants, described the “paella” of Ybor City and West Tampa as an example of the cultural strength of the state’s third-largest city.

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They both said exploding land prices, rents and home prices were a problem.

Maniscalco also divulged his fantasy if he ever wins the lottery: buy and restore Tampa’s historic buildings.

“I’ll never win, of course,” he said, pausing. “Well, maybe I will.”