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Where is this land called Tampa Bay?

sandra thompson
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© St. Petersburg Times, published April 7, 2001

It's not every week that Tampa gets two major stories in the national media, but last week it happened, wowee. On Monday the Wall Street Journal ran a front-page story about a Tampa family that's lost tons of money in the stock market. (For this they had to come to Tampa?) On Wednesday, the New York Times ran an article on Bern's on the front of its Dining section by wine writer Frank J. Prial, with a big photo of sommelier Ken Collura.

Bern's, however, got located "just up the street from Tampa Bay." That's like saying the original Palm, a revered old steak place, is "just up the street from the Hudson River."

That bay you mentioned, Frank, is the Hillsborough Bay.

And that Tampa family, who lost over a million dollars -- more than half of their portfolio's previous value? They were placed on "a canal near the Gulf of Mexico." Actually, they live in Sweetwater, near Rocky Point.

No, Tampa is not on the Gulf of Mexico. We have no beaches.

The problem with the national media is that most of it runs out of New York, and New Yorkers are the most geographically provincial of people. East Siders don't even go to the West Side, and no New Yorker will travel -- unless it's for money -- anywhere in the United States. When you talk Paris or Rome, of course, they know the street map by heart.

So it wasn't very surprising when during the election the New York Times placed St. Petersburg in Broward County.

The problem with Tampa is, no one knows where it is.

And it's our own fault.

We've been pushing a place that doesn't exist: Tampa Bay. As in the Tampa Bay Bucs, Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center. And so on. We did this for marketing reasons, I guess, so it would appear that these teams, these places, actually serve more than the city they're in. As if Tampa was not a distinctive enough place to claim the Bucs, or St. Petersburg the Devil Rays.

I was ordering something by phone from Beren's, a shoe store in San Francisco, and when I gave my address as Tampa, Fla., the catalog guy said, "Isn't it called Tampa Bay?"

No. It's Tampa.

So, to those who know us only from the media, we're all lumped together -- North Tampa, the gulf beaches, Ballast Point, Temple Terrace, Palm Harbor -- as if we're the same thing.

My husband and I were at Green Springs, a funky restaurant in Safety Harbor, next to a table of New York women (Long Island, South Shore) taking time out from the spa food even though it was their first night there. Where should they go for dinner and dancing Saturday night, they wanted to know: Clearwater or Tampa? Of course they had no car.

We laughed at the idea of them showing up in two taxis in downtown Clearwater for a fun time and suggested a limo to Ybor City.

The Tampa Hillsborough Convention and Visitors Association has become the Tampa Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau, which would seem to be a good thing, in theory. I mean, before, its Web site's recommended beaches were Picnic Island, Ben T. Davis and E.G. Simmons Park. (I don't even know where that one is.) I'd say Ben T. Davis would have been a big surprise to visitors expecting the miles of white sand gulf beaches they'd seen on postcards. Unless, of course, they like boiled peanuts.

But it's a bad thing in naming, as it continues to promote a non-place.

Plus the current site gears us up for some things in Sarasota, even Daytona Beach, which are not in Tampa Bay.

Or are they?

- Sandra Thompson is a writer living in Tampa. She can be reached at City Life appears on Saturday.

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