Wednesday, April 25, 2018
Business

Carlton: Downtown's new 'Water Street' district? As Tampa as devil crab

Tampa, a place busy reinventing itself, is not exactly known for its streets. At least not in a good way.

The road called Dale Mabry has long been multiple lanes of traffic hell stretching city to suburb. There's Horrible Hillsborough Avenue, the used car lots of Florida Avenue, the persistent prostitutes of Nebraska Avenue. Our streets are perpetually under construction, excuse me, "improvement." In short, except maybe beautiful Bayshore Boulevard curving along the water and old brick streets that have somehow survived "progress," pretty much no one thinks of Tampa and says: Great streets!

So maybe it was surprising when the people working to reshape 53 acres on the south side of downtown into a thriving neighborhood of residences, restaurants and retail came up with a street name for the project heretofore nicknamed "Vinikville."

This week, after more than two years — and what now seem like some seriously bad ideas like SoDo, as in south downtown — it was announced that henceforth this will be known as Water Street Tampa.

Now wait. If you were hoping for something more glitzy, more grab-you-by-the-necktie-and-make-you-want-to-order-a-$20-martini, hold off on throwing those rotten tomatoes a minute.

You could be forgiven for not knowing Tampa actually has a Water Street, more precisely an Old Water Street, tucked into that hopeful stretch of real estate they're working on. Not long ago, you could have been forgiven for not knowing downtown has actual water, though development along the Hillsborough River is seeing to that.

RELATED: Finally, Jeff Vinik's vision has a name: Water Street Tampa

By the way, Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, who's been the face of this redevelopment, appeared to seriously dislike the interim and unofficial name Vinikville — which, at a time when the overblown ego of a rich guy is celebrated in some corners, was kind of refreshing.

Ybor City, a mix of storied old buildings, restaurants, businesses and bars east of downtown, came with a cool name, one that reflects its deep Spanish, Italian and Cuban roots. New-in-towners who see their first Tampa highway signs and say, "What's Why-Bore City?" can be in-the-know and correctly pronouncing it "Ee-bore" with their first bite of an Ybor devil crab.

The point is Ybor City had an identity, there in its old cigar factories and wrought-iron balconies and in every proud chicken strutting its streets. In the comparatively soulless stretch formerly known as Vinikville, they had to start from scratch.

TRIGAUX: Task now is for Water Street Tampa to build an identity

Now why do you suppose they didn't go with Old Water Street, the full name of the existing road? You'd get your history, plus it rolls off the tongue: Meet me at the tapas restaurant/dog park/rooftop bar/nauseatingly hipster coffee shop at Old Water Street.

But I nitpick. Water Street. I like it.

I like that it doesn't scream party-all-night-on-4-for-1-beers and that it doesn't ooze snooty South Tampa pretension. I like that it doesn't try to muscle in on Ybor's Latin roots. And I like that it gives a nod to Tampa's past as a gritty port town — the bustling port being part of the current landscape, part of this town's unique character and charm.

Will it catch on like Bourbon in New Orleans or Duval in Key West? We'll see.

And yes, I said Tampa, and charm.

Contact Sue Carlton at [email protected]

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