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What 22 Tampa Bay icons tell outside world about this region

What are the storied names (good and bad), the powerful brands — the hometown icons — that folks outside Tampa Bay are most likely to associate with this region?

And what do all those icons say about us?

Taken together, they tell the world we are an entertainment capital. Certainly we are no Orlando with its Disney or Harry Potter draws. But we are a market full of professional sports teams and spring breakers, restaurant brands and a theme park, a museum and a freshly promised aquarium.

By history, we are still cigars, pirate invasions and TV shopping, but also home to important military commands. Though rarely credited for intellectual or creative accomplishment – Moffitt Cancer Center is one big exception – we can deliver tabloid fodder from the likes of a Bayshore Boulevard socialite or an aging but lovable ex-wrestler.

How telling that Tampa Bay's most influential icon right now may be an aquatic mammal.

That's okay. Tampa Bay should better understand what drives the ever-changing outside perceptions of this metro area.

Here is a broad, alphabetical swath of 22 Tampa Bay icons of what helps capture this metro area in the eyes of the bigger world. I've awarded each icon a direction (rising, flat or falling) based on its momentum.

m UP

Arturo Fuente: A famous cigar maker still calls Tampa's "Cigar City" Ybor district its headquarters after 101 years, even if its cigars are made in the Dominican Republic.

FLAT

Bern's: Its reputation for steak, wine and service is legendary. Don't be foolish enough not to try it at least once. You might consider the 60-ounce strip sirloin that "serves 6" (ha) for a mere $245.12.

m UP

Busch Gardens: It's come a long way after 54 years, from a beer factory and bird show to an internationally regarded theme park. It's constantly refreshing its mix of rides and animal displays as part of the company SeaWorld Entertainment.

FLAT

Clearwater Beach: If the Pinellas beaches can't make the icon list, what will? Clearwater is the mecca for spring breakers and major tourism events.

FLAT

Columbia Restaurant: It claims to be Florida's' oldest restaurant and epitomizes regional Spanish cuisine.

m UP

Dalí Museum: The St. Petersburg waterfront site not only houses one of the biggest collections of Salvador Dalí's works, but the building itself is an architectural home run.

FLAT

Derek Jeter: The 30,000-square-foot home of the New York Yankees captain, Hall of Fame shoo-in and one of Major League Baseball's top ambassadors is on the Davis Islands waterfront, not far from the team's Tampa training complex. As he nears retirement (and starts Jeter Publishing), will he become more of a local personality?

FLAT

Gasparilla: Tampa's annual midwinter pirate invasion is a mischievous celebration that the city adopted as one of the events unique to Tampa Bay and its history.

m UP

Home Shopping Network: The pioneer of the TV shopping channel industry has now become more sophisticated across the digital spectrum.

n DOWN

Hooters: The nation's first "breast­aurant" chain was founded in Clearwater (but is now based in Atlanta) and has grown to 420 locations in 28 countries.

n DOWN

Hulk Hogan: Nobody epitomizes local pop fame and infamy more than the larger-than-life, cartoon-styled Hulkster and family.

n DOWN

Jill Kelley: The wannabe MacDill socialite who brought down a CIA director has become one of the region's better-known names. Her latest claim: her Nov. 5 opinion piece published, oddly enough, in the Wall Street Journal headlined How the Government Spied on Me. Welcome to Florida.

n DOWN

MacDill Air Force Base: It's no ordinary military base but the home of CentCom, central command for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, as well as SOCom, where special operations of the combined Army, Navy and Air Force are based. Still, defense cuts and the winding down in the Middle East will lower its profile.

m UP

Moffitt Cancer Center: Any metro area that can lay claim to an elite cancer-fighting center like Tampa's Moffitt at once distinguishes itself from hundreds of other cities around the country. After all, Moffitt is the only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center, a lofty medical designation, in all of Florida.

FLAT

Mons Venus: The Tampa strip club is almost always mentioned in national press coverage whenever this area hosts big events like the Republican National Convention or a Super Bowl.

FLAT

Outback Steakhouse: This is the headquarters home of the "No Rules, Just Right" themed mega-chain of steak restaurants. It's the anchor asset of publicly traded company Bloomin' Brands Inc.

m UP

Scientology: Controversial? You bet. But the spiritual headquarters of this IRS-approved religion is now part of the cultural and economic core of downtown Clearwater. Just this weekend, the Church of Scientology opens its 300,000-square-foot Flag Building and will make its "Super Power" program available to its members.

n DOWN

Tampa Bay Bucs: The good news is this metro area's NFL franchise is no longer winless this season. The better news is there are no plans to resurrect those Creamsicle-colored uniforms again. How long will it take to become a competitive franchise again?

m UP

Tampa Bay Lightning: The NHL hockey team already boasts a Stanley Cup title. And relocated owner Jeff Vinik may yet prove a rising star of economic development — depending on the future direction of Tampa's Channelside district.

FLAT

Tampa Bay Rays: The competitive major-league baseball team already is famous for squeezing lots of wins out of small payrolls. While it may not attract crowds to its aging St. Petersburg stadium, its games get plenty of TV viewers. The Rays' long-term relocation — within Tampa Bay or perhaps in some other aspiring market — remains unclear. But the controversy keeps the team high-profile.

m UP

University of South Florida: Tampa's major state university has come a long way as both an educational institution and a key economic foundation for this region. Want to strengthen Tampa Bay's profile as a competitive metro area? Keep improving USF. And fix those weak graduation rates.

m UP

Winter the Dolphin: The tailless dolphin may appear last on this list, but Winter has proved to be a marketing juggernaut to Clearwater tourism thanks to the popular 2011 movie Dolphin Tale and its coming sequel. Winter alone pushed through this month's voter referendum supporting the building of a new aquarium in downtown Clearwater. Winter, stay healthy.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at trigaux@tampabay.com.

What 22 Tampa Bay icons tell outside world about this region

11/15/13 [Last modified: Friday, November 15, 2013 5:18pm]

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