TAMPA — Eager to capitalize on economic development momentum that's generated new projects and jobs in Tampa in recent weeks, Mayor Bob Buckhorn on Thursday told a gathering of hospitality officials that a downtown ballpark for the Tampa Bay Rays is within reach, despite challenges that persist.
“It's either going to be Tampa or someplace else, not St. Petersburg,” Buckhorn told 100 members attending the Hillsborough County Hotel and Motel Association's annual luncheon.
Buckhorn's statement followed the election defeat Tuesday of incumbent St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster, who Buckhorn has said was an obstacle to the Rays looking beyond Pinellas County for a new home.
In a touch of whimsy, Buckhorn said Tampa could be better served by a Major League Baseball ballpark in the downtown urban core than a flour plant that currently occupies a prime site.
"The ConAgra plant is right in the middle of where third base could be,” Buckhorn said, adding that ConAgra has no reason to move unless the plant were bought out.
He also said about 20 acres of land Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik owns around the Forum is a prime site, but does not know if Vinik has the patience to wait to develop the property until the Rays impasse over their contract to play at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg is resolved.
“Our only hope is to get together to pursue the ballpark,” Buckhorn said, adding that a $600 million financing plan that did not include a taxpayer giveaway is needed.