Everyone who has paid an ounce of attention to Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn knew he would leave office with a heavy heart.
He’ll do so in just two weeks, but not without a proper goodbye in the way Tampa residents have come to love and, sometimes, tease — with swagger.
Buckhorn offered his official goodbye in a nearly nine-minute video called “The Great Eight” highlighting his eight years in office.
“I came here to do big stuff. I came here to build a city. I came here to change a city. I came here to pull a city up by its bootstraps from that recession that had knocked us flat,” Buckhorn said.
“Hopefully when history judges my time here they will say that is exactly what I did.”
The video runs through eight years of Tampa growth. It shows business ribbon cuttings, River O’ Green celebrations, speeches in the new Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park Buckhorn worked to overhaul and Tampa residents smiling in places that before Buckhorn, were desolate spaces of under-utilized amenities.
“There have been a lot of brick and mortar changes in our community. Downtown is radically different,” Buckhorn says in the video.
“It’s vibrant, it’s alive, it’s busy seven days a week, 18 hours a day on the weekends; it’s festivals and activities in our parks. The Riverwalk is completed, it’s opened up the waterfront to a germination of Tampanians that have either written it off and decided that downtown was dead or young people who are moving here for the first time and now are exposed to an amazing waterfront.”
But even though those are the most visible remnants of eight years of Buckhorn, that’s not what he’s most proud of.
“What I’m proudest of is that Tampa swagger,” he said.
When Buckhorn took office in 2011, Tampa was in the throes of rebuilding its faltering economy in the wake of the Great Recession.
Downtown was a ghost town.
Businesses were avoiding expanding in the city or moving there.
Since that first year, downtown is booming with new life. It’s no longer the place people travel to for work and leave as soon as the clock strikes five. It’s bustling with new restaurants and nightlife. There are crowded events almost every weekend. The riverfront Buckhorn vowed to activate is now a center for activity and investment.
He touted all those things and more.
“This next generation of workers are not tied to a city because their strengths are found in their back or in their arms like my father’s generations. You’re not tied to a steel mill. You’re not tied to a paper plant. You’re not tied to an automobile manufacturing location. You’re mobile. You can live anywhere in the world that you want to live and these young people vote with their feet,” Buckhorn said.
The city’s new vibrancy, he said, is what is attracting young professionals to the city. They’re lured by the dazzle of a live, work and play atmosphere in downtown.
“They’re coming here because this city offers them a better opportunity. That’s what we set out to do. That’s why we focused so much on downtown,” Buckhorn said. “If we keep this up, south of Atlanta, Tampa, Florida will be the economic engine that drives the southeast U.S., mark my word.”
The video ends on an emotional note that could draw a tear even from those who have criticized Buckhorn’s priorities.
“I know one thing, there will never be a Mayor that loves this job as much as I have. I hope I made you proud,” Buckhorn ends, choking up.
He then gets up, adjusts his chair in front of a cleared off desk, turns his lights out and leaves his office.