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Support is essential if downtown is to grow

Indigo Coffee shop downtown was standing room only Tuesday as photographers maneuvered for prime floor space amid a crunch of dark suits and heels.

At the front of the room, Tampa Downtown Partnership president Christine Burdick and Mayor Pam Iorio welcomed three new businesses: Indigo, Bamboozle Cafe and Taps Wine and Beer Merchants.

It was another event reminding us that Tampa has begun its metamorphosis from a dreary place where people come only to work — or to sleep if homeless — into that bustling core of activity we've all been promised is coming oh so soon.

As much as we journalists breathe cynicism, I can't deny the changes around here. Sure, it's unclear whether downtown's condo towers will ever reach their potential or become casualties of the housing crisis, but at least there are some people living in SkyPoint.

And businesses are coming, too. Besides those that have opened within the past several months, high-end pizza restaurant Pizzaiolo Bavaro and a franchise of Jimmy John's Gourmet Sandwiches are expected to move into the same building as Indigo, at Franklin and Twiggs streets, by September.

Taps, in the SkyPoint tower on Ashley, and a few other restaurants, like Spain on Tampa Street and Fly Bar and Restaurant on N Franklin, actually stay open past 5 p.m.

But — and here's my chance for cynicism — these aren't the best economic times for restaurants to start up. Even the mayor conceded that.

"Thank you for investing in our downtown," she told smiling business reps, including Indigo's Jeffrey Darrey.

The location is his fifth in Tampa and it's here for the long haul, Darrey told me later. "We're getting nice, consistent, steady growth," he said. Still, "it's slower than we would like," he added.

Burdick says feedback from business owners affirms that times are tough. "What they really appreciate is more business support," she said. The downtown partnership is working on programs to recruit and retain businesses through promotions, events and other efforts.

Between 55 and 60 restaurants exist in downtown and the surrounding area, from Interstate 275 south to Garrison Channel and from Boulevard to Ybor Channel, Burdick said.

"We all need to band together, build up an appetite every day and a love for coffee and support them," Iorio told the crowd.

As usual with events like these, however, she was mostly preaching to the choir, as her own city employees and downtown leaders and entrepreneurs looked on.

The key for me is not only encouraging everyday people to support businesses, but to bring us quality and affordable goods that make us want to spend our money.

Truth be told, as much as I'd like to boost the economy, now that my gas tank guzzles $50, I make my own brew at home while packing my own lunch several times a week.

But I did stop to taste a few free samples at Tuesday's event. The dessert tray with key lime and butterscotch pies from Indigo and the subs from Taps were tasty.

And that five-spice barbecue sandwich at Bamboozle on Tampa Street could easily entice me to splurge. Co-owners Lynn Pham and Xuan "Sing" Hurt plan to start a Vietnamese-style Sunday brunch this month.

Hmmm, something different — in downtown, of all places.

Support is essential if downtown is to grow 07/17/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 22, 2008 8:23pm]
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