More than 28,000 vehicles a day rumble down Adamo Drive on Ybor City's southern edge, passing industrial buildings, strip clubs and the underbelly of an expressway.
They don't see the brick streets or smell the cigars. Even if they hear the streetcar bell, they have no idea where it's headed.
Soon, that's about to change.
An ambitious project is under way to paint a massive mural on the side of a steel fabrication plant. Once completed this summer, the 12,600-square-foot artwork promises to be the largest public mural in Florida and depict the heritage and culture of Ybor, said the artist, Michael Parker. It will welcome people to Ybor and transform the look of Adamo's west end.
"People are going to park their cars and just stare at this thing,'' said David Scott, chairman of the Ybor City Development Corp. "I fully expect it to become a tourist destination. It's very exciting.''
Parker hasn't revealed many details of the mural, partly to create some surprise but also because it's evolving. The Barrio Latino Commission overseeing Ybor's historic district recently issued a certificate of appropriateness for the project, and the city's public art program planned to sign off on the design this week.
Crews finished priming the building recently and hoped to start penciling in the design grid next week. Parker, along with about 30 college students and community members, will do the painting over the next two to three months.
Scott started working on the project more than two years ago after retiring from the Air Force. He wanted to do something for his community and considered Ybor, with its deep immigrant roots, representative of what it means to live in the United States.
"I looked at Ybor City and felt we could do much, much better. It's great that we have an entertainment district, but everything else had kind of withered away,'' he said. "I asked myself, 'What can we do to get the balance back?' ''
Scott, 57, raised $30,000 from public and private sources, including the city of Tampa's public art program, Kimmins Contracting Corp. and the Columbia Restaurant. In-kind donations from Sherwin-Williams, Kevin Schwiekhart, Corrosion Specialties Inc. and Ring Power Corp. covered the paint, prep work and equipment.
Organizers selected Parker to design and paint the mural, roughly 35 by 350 feet, on Fabricated Products of Tampa, at Adamo and 17th Street.
Parker, 34, has done several public murals, most notably two in Sulphur Springs' Rowlett Park and another in Ruskin, where he has a studio. He helped with the fundraising and formed a community art class at Hillsborough Community College's Ybor campus in January to work on the design.
Beyond the sheer size of the mural, the canvas itself poses challenges. The building is made of corrugated metal, rather than smooth concrete, and has a scalloped, irregular-shaped top. The artists will have to paint from scaffolding or cherry pickers because the wall starts 8 feet off the ground.
Scott described it as a "real heroic effort.''
Parker will spray, roll and hand-paint the mural using 70 to 80 coats of paint. It should last at least 15 to 20 years, thanks to a power washing and coat of primer applied to the original, rusted surface.
Long before sketching a design, Parker solicited input from the community. He led public workshops on mural-making and brainstormed ideas with different groups. To research a story about freedom fighter Paulina Pedroso, he bought a pair of vintage underwear from La France. Of course, he sampled a lot of Cuban sandwiches.
The class of 12 HCC students did much of the background work for the design. They interviewed Ybor business owners and residents and set up an online survey about Ybor and what it means to people. The idea of "embracing'' emerged as a common theme.
"We've done a lot of the research and saw the process,'' said Cassandra Thomas, a 23-year-old art student who wants to work in art therapy. "There's a sense of pride to be part of something that's bigger than yourself. It's more than just a class for a lot of us.''
The finished product will become a gateway to Ybor and go a long way toward improving the area's image.
"I used to have to tell people coming to my office to turn right at the strip club,'' said architect Larry Wilder, head of the city's art committee who owns a business on Seventh Avenue. "Now they can go to the mural and turn right.''