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Business Observer Friday, Feb. 8, 2019 5 months ago

Buckhorn talks up Tampa's transformation

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The outgoing mayor touted his legacy at an urban planning conference.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s valedictory lap continued in late January at the Urban Land Institute Tampa Bay’s 2019 Trends Conference at Armature Works in Tampa Heights.

The term-limited Buckhorn, a Democrat and former two-term Tampa city councilman, was first elected mayor in 2011, when the city, state and nation struggled to claw out of a deep recession.

“Through his leadership, Tampa hasn’t just managed to get back up, it has been completely transformed into a desirable and competitive city,” says Truett Gardner, a partner at Tampa-based law firm Gardner Brewer Martinez-Manafort, who introduced Buckhorn at the ULI conference. “Tampa’s time has truly come ... its story is that of an emerging, modern city.”

Addressing a packed house, Buckhorn reflected on what Gardner characterized as “the blueprint for success” that the city, under his leadership, has established during the past eight years. The turnaround, he says, started with reducing the brain drain that saw talented college graduates leave the Tampa Bay area for more competitive cities in the Southeast.

“I was tired of being a talent donor, and being a second- or third-tier city that everyone has written off,” Buckhorn says. “Now we’re a place in America that everyone is talking about.”

Reflecting on the challenge before him as he took office, Buckhorn says Tampa lost a half-billion dollars in property tax revenue during the recession. “It wasn’t until last year," he says, "that we got back to 2007 levels of property tax revenue numbers.”

Lest anyone think government workers don’t feel the sting of recession, Buckhorn sought to set the record straight. “We’re also 700 people less at City Hall than we were in 2007,” he says. “Yet out of the wreckage of the recession, there were 13 rating increases from the Wall Street rating agencies about our economic situation and the way we managed our budget.”

Another number that defines Buckhorn’s tenure is 10. That’s Tampa-St. Petersburg’s ranking in PwC and ULI’s influential Emerging Trends in Real Estate report, sandwiched between Charlotte, N.C., and Atlanta — two cities that used to benefit greatly from Tampa’s generous donation of talent. It’s a stunning comeback: In the 2015 report, Tampa-St. Pete ranked 35th.

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