The First Lady of Channel District
Kim Markham, one of the first to move to the industrial enclave, has worked 10 years to improve the area.
By SUSAN THURSTON, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 27, 2002
CHANNEL DISTRICT -- It's 5:30 a.m. on a Wednesday and Kim Markham curses the clock.
The sky is dark. Her body begs for more sleep.
Most mornings, her mind persuades her feet to the floor. A fun, busy day awaits, she tells herself.
Work. Family. Community. Karate. Tennis.
Somehow she fits everything in.
Markham, 48, collects interests like some women collect shoes. Among her favorites: anything to do with Channel District, her home for nearly 10 years.
Markham and husband Richard were among the first to live in the industrial enclave on downtown's eastern edge. They led efforts to rezone the area for residential use and formed a neighborhood council to combat problems.
They saw potential where others saw decay.
"A lot of artists were living here," she says. "There were a lot of positive things."
With help from neighbors and the city of Tampa, the Markhams purged the area of prostitutes, drug dealers and bums. They closed rave parties and sent stacks of postcards asking neighbors to clean up their property.
"Some people got mad. Some people were happy and said, 'Finally we have some neighbors who care,' " she says.
These days, Markham spreads the word through the council's newsletter, distributed by e-mail to hundreds in the know in Tampa. Her "2 Cents" column announces new projects, seeks suggestions on issues and pushes politicians to follow through on promises.
Property owners, elected officials and news reporters consider it a must-read every month.
"She's kind of the glue that holds everyone together," said Marlene Gregg, an interior designer in Channel District.
If the area had a First Lady, friends say Markham could take the crown. She's the self-appointed tour guide for prospective developers and point person for anything going on in her sphere.
Event guest lists from Harbour Island to Hyde Park include her name.
City Council member Linda Saul-Sena, who helped Markham with the Channel District's rebirth, calls her a "natural communicator" whose energy has fueled major improvements.
"She's an advocate from the heart," Saul-Sena says. "Her ego is modest but her embrace is broad."
She remembers people's names like others remember their own.
Forceful yet diplomatic, Markham seeks no applause for her efforts. Her motivation is simple. She wants Tampa to become a first-class city where people live near their jobs, support the arts and protect the environment.
She doesn't want more sprawl.
"I hate seeing all the newcomers to Florida eating all the pristine wilderness," she says.
Markham never expected to live in Florida. Born in South Carolina, she grew up in Hawaii on the islands of Oahu and Maui. Half-Korean, she studied business and accounting in school and met her husband at the University of Hawaii when she was 21.
The couple moved to South Carolina, where Richard was the doctor in a small town and Kim worked as an auditor in Charleston. They transferred to Hudson and finally Tampa, where he took a job at the now defunct Centro Asturiano Hospital.
The two lived on Harbour Island for several years then moved into a 20,000-square-foot warehouse in Channel District in 1993. They needed space for Richard's car collection and windsurfers, and they wanted their daughter, Lilia, now 16, to grow up around their artistic friends.
"We realized that we were going to get old and that we should surround ourselves with people we want to get old with," says Markham, who doesn't attempt to cover her graying hair.
Living in a warehouse suits their active lifestyle. Their first one, which they sold a few years ago, had a roller rink. The current one -- about 10,000 square feet -- has an indoor pool in an old grease pit.
They keep the water an embarrassingly warm 97 degrees for relaxing after a long day, she says.
Markham sees herself staying in Tampa for years to come. Her husband, who owns the Channel Medical Clinic on 12th Street, is Tampa's port doctor in charge of treating patients from ships. She runs the office and inspects vessels for medical supplies.
"The medical practice is really our life's work," says Markham, who spends most days in scrubs. "It's something that we decided to do together."
Markham takes full advantage of her urban lifestyle. She bikes to work, hits Ybor for lunch and walks to Channelside for the movies.
"I think I'm pretty spoiled,' she says. "I don't spend any time commuting, and I use that time to do fun things."
Her leisure hours center on the martial arts and tennis. A purple belt in karate, she takes classes six days a week, normally at 6 a.m. or 7:15 p.m. Four days a week, she hits the courts.
It's a demanding schedule that keeps her body fit and her mind refreshed. It also lets her eat, guilt-free.
She admits it's a struggle, especially at 5:30 a.m. She tells her husband to push her out of bed, but he never does.
Somehow, she does it herself.
-- Susan Thurston can be reached at 226-3394 or email@example.com.
- Kim Markham
- AGE: 48
- FAMILY: Husband, Richard; daughter, Lilia; dog, Romeo. Her mother lives on Harbour Island.
- HOME: 10,000-square-foot warehouse in Channel District.
- TITLES: Channel District booster; medical clinic manager.
- XMAS GIFT TO STAFF: Tickets to The Lion King.
- TAMPA PROS: Location, weather, leadership.
- TAMPA CONS: "I don't really have anything I don't like about Tampa."
- HAPPIEST TIME IN LIFE: Watching her daughter grow up.
- HOBBIES: Karate, tennis, Rollerblading, kayaking and reading science fiction.
- RECENT ACCOLADES: Fourth place at the U.S. Open Karate Tournament, women's kata under-black belt division.
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