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Is Tampa one of America's best cities? Answer comes Friday night

Ebony Thornton, 6, looks up to fellow Sheehy Elementary School student Sha’Leand Grimes, 6, as she cheers during Tampa’s presentation for the National Civic League’s All-America City competition at the Marriott Waterside on Thursday.

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

Ebony Thornton, 6, looks up to fellow Sheehy Elementary School student Sha’Leand Grimes, 6, as she cheers during Tampa’s presentation for the National Civic League’s All-America City competition at the Marriott Waterside on Thursday.

TAMPA — If the city of Tampa were a Miss America contestant, her talking points would focus on rebuilding blighted communities.

Forget the glitzy gown. Tampa sports low-budget T-shirt attire.

At least that was the scene at the National Civic League's All-America City competition at the Marriott Waterside, where representatives from 29 cities performed their song and dance, literally, for a panel of 11 jurors.

Each city had the same goal: to be named one of America's best, a title to be awarded Friday night. Only 10 cities will hold the annual honor.

"I can't feel my knees right now," said an elated Shannon Edge, the city's neighborhood and community relations director, after Tampa presented.

For months, Edge and others have written, cast, choreographed and rehearsed a 20-minute skit, starring police officers, schoolchildren, community residents and Mayor Pam Iorio.

The only Florida city chosen, Tampa faces competition from across the nation. The city last won in 1990.

A crew from Windsor, Colo., held a mock newscast to talk about tornado recovery efforts. Pocomoke City, Md., wore white boater hats touting the "Friendliest City on the Eastern Shore."

Thursday's finalists were chosen based on civic engagement, innovation, inclusiveness and community development.

The Tampa team made no mention of glistening waters or a cruise port.

The presentation focused on efforts in East Tampa, a neighborhood neglected for decades, the expansion of 40th Street and academic improvements at Sulphur Springs Elementary.

The seemingly unglamorous projects puzzled juror Curtis Johnson. Most metropolises boast water, technology or other fanciful projects, he said.

"It's part of the value of our city that we want everyone to succeed," Iorio explained.

There was song, a Wizard of Oz-inspired tune entitled, If I Only Had a Road.

For fifty years we waited,

For our road to be repaved,

And for storm water drains

There was dance.

There were bright-eyed, smiling children.

Angel Harris, an 8-year-old from East Tampa, told the jurors about a water conservation project she helped with at King's Kids Christian Academy.

"I saw the natural world around me in a whole new way," Harris read from a prompt. "Now, I pay more attention to my surroundings and I feel a personal responsibility to care for our environment."

The audience erupted in applause. The jurors' hearts were noticeably warmed.

"Young lady, I don't know who wrote the script for you," said juror Sharon Metz, "but you had all the hard words, and you were perfect."

As participants filed off stage, the beaming Harris seemed to capture everyone's mood.

"I was so excited and full of energy," she said, hopping in her shoes. "I just love Tampa and East Tampa."

Steven Overly can be reached at soverly@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3435.

Is Tampa one of America's best cities? Answer comes Friday night 06/18/09 [Last modified: Thursday, June 18, 2009 10:32pm]

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