tampabay.com

Tierra Verde

By Paul Swider
Published September 30, 2007


Geography: Once an array of 15 separate islands, the land was consolidated into one mass of 667 acres through dredging and filling. It is not a city but is governed by a community association and is an unincorporated portion of Pinellas County. Neighboring cities have tried to annex the outlying community, but they've fought it off.

History: The area was once as remote as what is now Fort De Soto, known only to Tocobaga Indians, Spanish explorers and pirates. For a long time in the early part of this century, while the rest of the area was being developed, the islands were aloof, accessible only by boat. A couple of homes were built in the '20s but nothing much else happened until the 1960s when developers joined the islands together into Tierra Verde. Later the state built a road to the fort and in the 1980s an exit came off I-275 and the boom was on. At one point, Guy Lombardo had his Port O' Call Resort there and featured Frank Sinatra, Marlene Deitrich, Liberace and Mel Torme. And the actor who played Zorro lived there once as well. Before it was very developed, it was a port of call for modern swashbucklers who used the vacant waterfront to land their cargo of marijuana; just as there are legends of pirate treasure, there are also legends of piles of cash secreted in the mangroves and then forgotten.

Beach: There is no beach, just a series of canals lined by condominiums and expensive homes. Little undeveloped land remains but people will pull off and fish or even swim where they can fight through the foliage. Collany Key, which nearly abuts the Shell Key preserve, is being developed now but used to be a point from which one could swim to the parties on Shell Key.

Amenities: If you like driving around looking at mansions, there's some touring to be done here, but otherwise just a few interesting restaurants in this almost entirely residential linkage between Fort De Soto and the mainland. There's the quaint Ship Side Cafe near the marina and the Sandbar right on the water as you cross the bridge into TV. Further down is the miniature gourmet Crazy Conch Cafe along the side street that leads to the grandaddy of the area, Billy's Stone Crab, which has its 30-year reputation, a rooftop bar and a pontoon boat tour. There are also odd little finds like Good Times Continental Restaurant, which features Czech-Austrian-German-French cuisine, but is also a place for the thirsty to find a Hacker-Pschorr or Krusovice Kralovsky Pivovar. Environmental non-profit Tampa Bay Watch also calls TV home and has a number of programs as well as renting out its new stilt buildings for corporate meetings and special events.

Drawbacks: If you don't live there and aren't looking for a bite, a boat or a few minutes of kitschy shopping, there's not much to do here. But, being on the way to Fort De Soto, you drive through TV anyway so you might want to stop and experiment.

Parking: Right now, there's as much as you could need near the strip shops and restaurants, although there is some desire to use the marina for a shuttle to offshore gambling boats. If that happens, the area near there might get tight when overrun by nicotine-stained one-armed-bandit afficionados, but it hasn't happened yet and may never.

Bottom line: It's easy to whiz by on your way to a real beach, but there are a couple gems worth trying along the Bayway.