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Turn on the lights, the party is just starting

By KATHRYN WEXLER, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 21, 2003

TAMPA -- In this, a football town, even the skyline bows to the Bucs.

The crown of lights atop the SunTrust Financial Center glows red, white and blue no longer.

Out with patriotism, in with Buccanism.

Monday, six workers with harnesses strapped over their sweat shirts climbed the seven-story steel lattice. Against a strong wind, they whisked off the plastic shields on 166 fluorescent lights and replaced the tinted wrappers with those of red and pewter -- well, gray, really.

"Gray is as close as we can get to pewter," said Arthur Bookin, operations manager.

The new colors were ordered a few days before the Bucs beat the Eagles. Win or lose, the hometown team deserved the recognition, said Patty Del Villar, property manager.

Since being built in 1992, the building has been a cultural beacon, reflecting the sentiments of Tampa Bay. In December, the building beams green and red. On St. Patrick's Day, green; purple during Alzheimer's month and blue during Super Bowl XXXV, which was played at Raymond James Stadium. Del Villar is not above a demure, "Go Bucs!" when the spirit moves her, as it did during a tour Monday of the roof on the 37th floor, with the exhaust vents humming and the city spread below.

Bookin, nearby, pointed to a few female mannequins affixed to the roof to scare away turkey vultures that circle downtown. The mannequins, bought on eBay, take a beating from the birds that, apparently, attack once they figure out dolls don't fight back.

One, recently, was found dismembered.

"It had feathers all over it," Bookin said ominously.

Hmmm ... figures flattened by forces greater than they ... Del Villar had an idea.

"With one of the mannequins, we can put a uniform of the Oakland Raiders on," she said. "Yeah, but someone will go up there and take it down," Bookin said.

The roof has been off-limits to the public since two men parachuted from its edge 10 years ago. "One, a Brit, fell to his death a year later," Bookin said.

Then Bookin ran off, loudly smacking 2-by 4 boards together to scare away a brazen bird that had landed on a ledge.

The Bucs won't trump the American flag at SunTrust forever. Even if they trounce.

"We'll go back to red, white and blue," Bookin said, "until we get our guys back from Afghanistan."

-- Kathryn Wexler can be reached at or (813) 226-3383.

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