The mayors of Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater talked about how to grow as a region during a "State of the Bay" conversation hosted by the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club Thursday.
Climate change and transportation received a lot of attention while the future of the Tampa Bay Rays remains a mystery.
The mayors said governments and residents alike need to reduce their carbon footprints to protect Tampa Bay from climate change. That came in response to an attendee demanding the mayors convince her why she doesn’t need to move out of Florida because of environmental threats.
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman touted new construction in the city that’s being designed to meet stricter resiliency standards, including the St. Pete Pier.
Mayor Jane Castor talked about Tampa's stormwater mitigation plan and urged residents to do a better job at properly recycling.
Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos said the situation is not dire now, but stressed the importance of being able to “pass on” these communities to future residents.
“Not one of us has to worry about leaving right now,” he said. “If the sea level were to rise one foot in Clearwater we would still have a beach…We need to take responsibility now for future generations.”
As for transportation, Kriseman and Cretekos talked about their desires to expand ferry service to connect the three cities. Kriseman indicated Pinellas County may not be ready to attempt another transit referendum, while Castor expressed frustration that Hillsborough's transportation tax, approved by voters in November 2018, is still held up in the courts.
"I'm not convinced, you know anything can happen these days, but I believe it will pass,” she said. “The majority of citizens voted for it, that’s what they want and we need to move forward.”
As for whether the Tampa Bay Rays could get a new stadium across the bridge in Tampa or split its season between St. Pete and Montreal, the mayors never addressed the issue seriously. Instead, a running joke throughout the event was that the Rays would be moving to Clearwater.
“Rick and I have decided that we’re going to give the Rays to George as a parting gift because they have individuals who can afford [to have them,]” Castor said in her opening remarks.
She was likely referring to Scientologists, and later on in the program event moderator Adam Smith, former Tampa Bay Times Political Editor, joked, “Dianetics Field has a nice ring to it."
That is a reference to the title of the best-selling book by the founder of The Church of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard.
Despite the overall camaraderie and emphasis on regionalism, there was one point of contention.
Both mayors said that could damage efforts to brand all three cities as a region. And Kriseman said the group's decision to change the name without consulting communities outside of Tampa has become a trust issue.
“It's incumbent at this point in time if they're not going to reconsider a name change, that they've got to go out of their way to regain our trust,” he said.
Castor said she was unaware of the name change ahead of the group's announcement and called it a "lesson in how not to roll out something." But she said she disagrees with claims that the name change will hamper efforts to market the entire region.