Chickens roam the streets of Ybor City while people sit outside cafes drinking coffee and smoking cigars. Nearby, students ponder their course work while young professionals work in Ybor offices.
That mix of sights, sounds and people is what Dave Scott is trying to capture on the giant mural going up now on Adamo Drive, the southern border of the historic district.
"That's in the daytime," he says, "when the lights are on."
The 12,000-square-foot mural on the side of Fabricated Products of Tampa has been an ongoing project for more than two years. Backed by the Ybor City Development Corp., it's part of a larger effort to revitalize the district by attracting more businesses and residents.
Scott, chairman of the corporation, wanted something that would show a brighter side of Ybor.
"We want to change the perception people have as one-dimensional," he says. "It's more than just a good place to go for a party."
The corporation chose local artist Michael Parker, an adjunct instructor of art at Hillsborough Community College's Ybor City Campus, to head the project. Parker and his volunteers began painting last month after more than a year of planning and reaching out to the community for input.
The 35-foot-tall mural will span two entire city blocks on Adamo between 17th and 19th streets. Adamo Drive is one of the gateways into Ybor, Parker says, but the area is industrial and weather-beaten.
"It's really not a good representation of what the neighborhood is all about," Parker says. "The idea is to inject some community art into it to kind of increase the vitality of that particular strip."
The image of Frank Adamo is central to the design. Adamo was born in Ybor and came back in the 1920s to practice medicine. He died in 1988, and the city named the street after him in 2003. Adamo was a surgeon in WWII and discovered a cure for gangrene. He was taken prisoner by the Japanese in the Philippines.
Parker regularly has seven to 10 volunteers who help paint, including Lakeema Matthew, 23, who grew up in Ybor. But she's more than a volunteer—her face is part of the mural.
"She's kind of a model for younger women in this area, for some of the choices she's made in life," Parker says.
He's known Matthew since she was 14. She was one of the students at Community Stepping Stones, a learning center for at-risk teens in Sulphur Springs, where he led them in creating murals in Rowlett Park.
She studied graphic design at HCC and took a class in community arts with Parker about the process of creating public art.
Her profile will adorn the building in shades of pink and purple, modeled after photographs of Cuban freedom fighter Paulina Pedroso, who hid revolutionary Jose Martí in her Ybor home when he was in Tampa in the late 1800s.
"Jose gets a lot of the credit for all the work he did in Ybor, but Paulina was the only reason he was alive," Parker says.
To get the public involved in the mural, Parker's community arts class held workshops to teach things like basic painting skills.
"If the image is going to be seen by the public on a day-to-day basis,'' he says, "I want to give the public every opportunity to access the process, to have it available to them to almost create it on their own.''
He sought input from the community through online surveys and public forums. The survey generated about 120 responses, and 18 people showed up to the first painting workshop.
Safway donated scaffolding. The Special Forces Motorcycle Club helped them set it up.
Sherwin Williams donated paint, and several other area businesses gave money to the project.
Plenty of residents donated, too, a few dollars at a time. That's the spirit of the mural, Parker says — regular people helping each other. "I couldn't see this happening any other way."
Keeley Sheehan can be reached at (813) 226-3321 or [email protected]