Here’s how I see it: Tampa is very much a growing, entrepreneurial destination (thank you Forbes) because its former causes for disdain are now selling points.
The local market, for almost anything other than law firms and real estate agents, isn’t saturated. Roads aren’t horribly congested except at peak times (though if we aren’t careful they will be), and you can still find buildable land for relatively cheap near the center.
Tampa is still a small pond for big fish. While it can sometimes be annoying that only a few degrees separate nearly everyone, it’s also incredibly easy to network, and you’ll find that most successful business and civic leaders are approachable and want to help.
Even the two disparate urban centers (St. Petersburg and Tampa) are close enough to be seen as a singular unit, 30 minutes apart by car and now connected via high-speed ferry. The sibling rivalry of yore is really quite passé; everyone that I know sees both sides of the Bay as equals, stronger together than apart.
While wages and job prospects in the region still can’t match those of Texas cities, Atlanta, or even metro South Florida (see Bureau of Labor Statistics), those conditions correlate with a lower cost of living, somewhat dampened sense of pretension, and a more laid-back attitude.
Consider: the distance between being a backward, sleepy, mediocre place and one that is vibrant, sophisticated, and attractive is very short, but only if you aren’t paying attention. Almost everything that now, in 2017, makes Tampa so happening, comes to fruition after years and many small steps toward greatness.
Before I wrote this post I made a list of the entities I see as building up Tampa’s cred and quality of life, both from an internal and external view:
Arts & Culture
- CASS Contemporary [blog post from 2014]
- Gasparilla [Festivals of Art, Music, Film]
- Second Screen Cult Cinema
- The Tampa Theatre
- Theatre Companies [American Stage, Stageworks]
- Tampa LGBTQ Pride
Connection to Cuba
- Tucker/Hall, Bill Carlson
- Direct flights to Havana on Southwest, Spirit, and American
Healthy Food Options
- FitLife Foods [blog post from 5 years ago!]
- Clementine Chef
- Whole Body Fuel
- Juiceries [Soho, Swami, Squeeze, Urban]
- Organic-Health Grocers [Greenwise, Sprouts, Whole Foods, Rollin’ Oats, Fresh Market, Duckweed]
Craft Coffee and Tea
Retail & Shopping
- Hyde Park Village
- Oxford Exchange [addition of Aēsop, Warby Parker corners; brands like Vanessa Bruno, Apolis, Shinola]
- The Blind Tiger + Ella Bing new location in The Morrison
- The Paper Seahorse
- Bespoke & Co. [blog post coming soon!]
- Station House St. Pete
- Tiny houses/apartments
- The Heights
- Armature Works Market [Graze 1910, Swami, O Cocina, more TBA]
- Jeff Vinik/South Channel District
- Publix in North Channel District
- University of Tampa [densification]
- Darryl Shaw/Ybor City
- Ferrill Construction
- Kodawari Yoga [+bodywork, massage, float therapy]
- Punch [kick-boxing]
- Viking Fitness
- CAMP Tampa
- Soho Cycling Studio
- Urban Kai SUP
- Tampa International Airport [$2.6 billion decongestion, enabling, and expansion underway from 2013 through 2028; direct flights now to London, Frankfurt, Zurich, Revkjavik, Panama City, San Francisco, LA, and Seattle]
As a native, I am able to see the contrast of life in Tampa from 20 and 30 years ago, and because I left for sixteen months and recently returned, have a taste of what it’s like to move here as a transplant.
My key complaint growing up and which still gives me cause for skepticism, is how mediocre the Tampa experience once was. There wasn’t a high bar of quality, so minimal effort and investment could still be lucrative. That is no longer true.
Almost every new business that opens now in Tampa is thoughtful and well-conceived, and they enjoy great success (see Fresh Kitchen). The question is, can they evolve, grow, and remain relevant past their initial novelty? If a place like the Oxford Exchange is any indication, it is certainly possible.
Many of my friends and colleagues from high school and college left the area for bigger and more exciting social scenes, educational options, jobs, vibes in (admittedly pretty awesome places like) DC, Austin, and Seattle. After living but briefly in a packed, expensive, polluted urban area with many days of gray skies, I was beyond thrilled to return to my sunshine and sunsets, and relative sense of personal space. This I think is one of Tampa’s benefits—you can find peace and quiet if you want it.
Tampa still has plenty to improve on, and this too is one of its draws. There is more editing and creating to be done, rather than many laurels to rest on. What we lack, we invent, and we support our neighbors.
I am proud to call myself a native Tampan, now more than ever.