Three mayors representing the Tampa Bay region’s largest cities will address a fiesty group of some of the area’s most engaged citizens Thursday afternoon in a highly anticipated State of the Region conversation.
The Suncoast Tiger Bay Club is hosting the event in mid-Pinellas featuring Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos.
Given the format, the conversation could take any number of twists and turns. Members of the hyper-engaged group are able to ask unvetted questions that often put elected officials on the spot.
But there are some topics that are sure to arise. Here’s a rundown of what to expect.
What the heck is up with the Tampa Bay Rays and the team’s ongoing quest for a new stadium?
Up until this week the question on the future of the Rays had come down to whether the team would move to Tampa. Though questions were confounded last year when the Rays punted on a Tampa stadium plan and when they announced interest in negotiating a split season between St. Pete and Montreal, there was still plenty reason to think a Tampa option might still be on the table.
Castor kept her eye on the prize for Tampa and Kriseman has still not, at least not publicly, lost hope that the team will eventually see the light and stick around.
But now there’s another option, not quite on the table, but near it, to have the Rays move to Orlando. The Tampa Bay Times reported Tuesday that Orlando Magic executive Pat Williams said his city would make a fine home for the Major League Baseball team. The Rays admitted there had been talks about a possible move after its contract expires with St. Pete in 2027.
So now the question becomes, will Castor and Kriseman (and let’s not forget about Cretekos) come together with a united front to keep the team in the region.
The fate of baseball in Tampa Bay could be in peril. The topic is sure to come up at least once, probably more.
Transit and transportation
Public transportation in the Tampa Bay region leaves little to be desired. Traffic in the region is a whole other headache that is only going to get worse.
Each of the three cities represented at Thursday’s event face unique, yet similar challenges.
Expect Castor to field questions about the status of Hillsborough County’s All For Transportation sales tax. Voters approved the 1% sales tax for robust transportation and transit improvements in late 2018, but it’s tied up in the courts amid a challenge from Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White.
Residents will surely want to know what Castor’s plans are for the revenue if and when it becomes available and, if White’s appeal is approved, what the city plans to do without the new revenue.
Meanwhile, Kriseman and Cretekos are likely to face questions about their own lack of transportation funding options and whether or not they would support a transportation referendum reboot in Pinellas County — a difficult topic to tackle considering the blistering 2014 defeat of Greenlight Pinellas, which both Mayors supported.
Kriseman is likely to focus on only that which he can control, and the obvious bullet points on his mayoral resume as it relates to transportation. He’s in the process of obtaining the necessary funding for a bus rapid transit route between downtown St. Pete and the beaches and he, at least in part, helped oversee changes to the downtown looper network and shift from the Pinellas transit agency’s shift to a grid network of buses in the urban core.
He’s also likely to talk about the importance of complete streets to encourage walking and biking as an alternative to driving.
Both Kriseman and Cretekos have ferry service to tout — Cretekos for ferry service that allows Clearwater beach goers to park downtown and take a boat to the beach and Kriseman for his ongoing efforts to continue ferry service to Tampa.
Climate change and resiliency
This is a big win for Kriseman. Since the beginning of his tenure as Mayor, he has consistently pushed for policies that promote sustainability amid a changing climate and inevitable climate change.
His efforts earned his city a $2 million package from former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s philanthropic foundation to promote climate change policies.
Tampa had lagged behind in resiliency planning. But when Castor took office, she made it a top priority. Expect her to tout her plans, including the city’s biggest infrastructure budget plan ever. But don’t count out the questions. She’s likely to face questions about whether the efforts will come together fast enough to adequately protect the city.
The dynamic between Kriseman and Castor
This might not be a talking point, or even a question the two mayors face. But it will be something to watch for nonetheless.
Kriseman and Buckhorn were friends, but Kriseman often came across as the slightly less headline-making, little brother to Buckhorn sort of partner in the relationship.
At State of the Region events in years past, the two share plenty of jovial jabs at one another and a healthy level of competition between cities.
Buckhorn is gone, though and Castor now has Tampa’s reigns. While Kriseman supported Castor and the two have a good relationship, it has not developed the same competitive friendliness Buckhorn and Kriseman shared.
It will be interesting to watch the dynamic between the two. Castor has shown her own light-hearted side and she certainly is not shy about promoting her city, even if in a different way than her Tampa chief cheerleader predecessor.
The two won’t have as much time serving together as Kriseman had with Buckhorn, but two years is still a decent chunk of time to work together, not against one another.
Notice something missing from this list? If you guessed Cretekos’ name, you’d be correct.
Clearwater has long been the read-headed stepchild of the region, fading into the background of the more headline-grabbing Tampa and St. Pete.
All things considered, it probably shouldn’t be that way. Clearwater Beach is consistently a tourism Mecca for the region. It’s downtown has almost unlimited potential, but it’s been untapped.
Many people in the region think the Church of Scientology is the culprit stifling Clearwater’s project and the driving force that has kept its downtown from seeing the same renaissance that St. Pete has already achieved and Tampa is well on its way to reaching.
Cretekos might have to answer for that.
But, he’s a lame duck. So the questions might focus less on what he’ll do and more on what his eventual successor might. Voters will choose a new mayor this March, meaning Cretekos’ days at the helm are numbered.