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Spotlight on Tampa
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 24, 2001
Tampa has been busily preparing for Super Bowl XXXV. The city is planting trees, arresting nude dancers and roping off Ybor City for a deluge of private partying. The dressing up is an opportunity to assess the condition of a community residents live with every day. In that sense, the Super Bowl could do lasting good if it contrasts where Tampa is with where it ought to be.
The preparations and the hype are reminders that the Super Bowl caters to wealth and privilege. Celebrities ushered by chauffeured limousines to lavish affairs probably won't see or feel the diversity that makes this port town so culturally rich. They could as easily be behind the velvet curtains in Los Angeles or Houston. Yet the energy surrounding the Super Bowl is inescapable even for the vast majority of ordinary residents in no position to attend the game. The image of Tampa on national TV is still rare enough to provoke civic pride and a sense of status and opportunity.
But what sort of Tampa will the visitors see? Touristy Ybor, gleaming Bayshore and leafy Hyde Park are anomalies that hardly reflect the city's landscape or its quality of life. Thousands of residents still lack sidewalks, street lighting and adequate drainage. The needs -- affordable housing downtown, jobs in East Tampa, more patrols and commercial investment in the northern neighborhoods -- are universal to growing cities. But the lack of attention those issues have received also reflects the skewed priority City Hall has given to Ybor, downtown and the tourist industry.
Tampa landed the Super Bowl as payback for the voters having passed the stadium tax, and it's worth remembering that residents of poorer neighborhoods are helping to pay to have the Super Bowl here. City leaders should parlay the unity in preparing for the game into an effort to confront problems once the event has gone -- building public housing, strengthening Tampa General Hospital, creating new business and home-buying opportunities in low-income areas. The private sector can play a leading role, as it did in securing the Super Bowl. Making the city look its best for visitors is fine. So is harnessing that energy for neighborhood improvement.
Tampa Mayor Dick Greco had the right frame of mind the other day. Greco said he was tempted to forgo the tickets offered to VIPs and watch the game on TV instead so he could glimpse how the world will see Tampa on Super Bowl Sunday. It would be interesting for Greco to share his impressions on the off chance he follows through on that idea. The images of downtown, Ybor and Bayshore will show Tampa's best side, but they have little to do with the urban agenda awaiting attention on the mayor's desk. The public improvements for the Super Bowl are proof Tampa is rich with energy, resources and civic pride. Let's enjoy the game and tackle other challenges afterward.
Today's Super Bowl story lineup