In his drive to rebuild downtown Tampa, Mayor Bob Buckhorn borrowed a little bit from here and a little bit from there, and tried to figure out what works best for the city he calls home. It's a smart strategy.
Buckhorn has observed the usual suspects when it comes to "hot" locations – Raleigh-Durham and Charlotte in North Carolina, and Austin, Texas, but he didn't stop there. To find another candidate worth studying, he drove across the Howard Frankland Bridge to downtown St. Petersburg.
"It became kind of a hip place to be. Beach Drive in particular is an example of how you do it right," Buckhorn said.
"What they have in St. Petersburg is residential development mixed with cultural arts. They have done a great job with that."
As the Tribune noted in a story Sunday, downtown St. Petersburg takes advantage of its waterfront with a variety of drinking, dining and entertainment options. Buckhorn's strategy for Tampa has some of that, particularly on the residential part. So when I asked him Monday what his city will look like in three to five years, it was all about the number of downtown-dwellers.
"When you put heads in beds, retail will follow," he said. "You'll see a major grocery store downtown. You'll see bars and restaurants and development along the west bank. Channelside will be alive. Riverwalk will be done."
A Tribune story also noted four new hotels are in the planning stages for downtown, including the site of the ill-fated Trump Tower project next to the Platt Street Bridge. That could create the need for more places to eat and be entertained.
"There is interest in the property behind the (downtown) library for residential high-rise and restaurants," Buckhorn said.
It all sounds good, but we've heard stories about developments before that never happened. People have been talking for decades about what to do about Tampa's lack of downtown nightlife, but Buckhorn said it's more than a matter of aesthetics. It's long-term economic survival. He calls that "the bigger strategy."
"When young people leave town, they take their intellectual capital with them," he said. "We have to stop that brain drain."
That's why it is smart to study what they're doing in Charlotte, Raleigh-Durham and Austin. Those are prime relocation spots for young people in the Southeast.
"We were losing a lot of our young people because they saw those other places as hipper places to be. That's why buzz is so important," Buckhorn said. "It's not just bricks and mortar. It's about an attitude."
That means live music, entertainment, food trucks, culture, sporting events and a sense of living someplace special. That's the blueprint.
Last year, Buckhorn said more than 500,000 people attended organized events in downtown Tampa. That's about three times the total from the previous year, and it's the direction the city needs to head. It worked in Austin. It worked in North Carolina. It worked in St. Pete.
If Buckhorn has his way, it will work in Tampa, too.