For the new director of Hillsborough County Animal Services, moving to Tampa meant moving home. • A native of Riverview, Ian Hallett, 35, spent the last several years in Austin, Texas, working as the deputy chief animal services officer for the city. • When the Hillsborough County job became available, Hallett jumped at the chance to bring his wife and 3-year-old son to Florida. Recently, Tampa Bay Times staff writer Shelley Rossetter sat down with Hallett to find out why the move filled him with nostalgia for his childhood home but left him pining for the vibrant city he left behind.
What was it like to grow up here?
My wife and I both went to Hillsborough High School together — which is how we met, even though we really only lived a mile apart. We were in the International Baccalaureate program, so we both moved from a rural area to going to school in the inner city.
We were in the program with people from all over Asia and somebody from Africa and some European people as well, and then we were in an inner city high school that was predominantly minority populations: Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Cubans, African-Americans and actually, quite a significant Asian population. So we really got thrown into a melting pot and we loved it.
Now that you're back in Tampa, where did you decide to settle down at?
We are now in Temple Terrace. We initially wanted to move back near Hillsborough High School but then my mom said we should live near her, which we thought was a horrible idea. That is, until she told us that she could come over and watch our toddler in the evenings so that we could do stuff. Then suddenly that sounded like a really good idea.
So, now we are living in Temple Terrace. My mom lives in the same complex so she comes over and my wife and I get to go bike riding, get coffee or go see a movie. We're very happy in Temple Terrace.
How much has Tampa changed since you moved away?
I last lived here for about a year in 2002. What's really wild about Tampa is that none of the stuff that was here in 2002 has gone away, there's just new stuff next to it. Like this plaza at the corner of Falkenburg Road and Highway 60 looks exactly like it did when I left, which is crazy.
I think probably the perfect analogy is that in the plaza with Subway and Office Depot and Home Depot, nothing has really changed. There's the post office, then the First Choice Bar-B-Que, but now there's also a Jamaican restaurant and a Vietnamese boba tea shop.
So I think that kind of sums Tampa up almost, that it has become the thing I love most about it: how international it is. So the changes that I've seen here, just around the corner, really reflect that.
What brought you back to Tampa Bay?
I really loved Austin. I miss it. I cried when we left. The city is just amazing. So it's a combination of being home for me and the opportunity. If it hadn't been both together, I wouldn't have done it.
There is definitely a huge amount of nostalgia for me here. Now I'm getting to show my son the things I grew up with. He has been to the beach, which he loves, and he swims in a pool. He loves the water and that is how I grew up — always in the water. So it's fun to watch my son learn the same and to grow up in the same place I did and experience the things I did as a child.
What else do you look forward to doing with your son here?
Taking him to eat at different places that you can't find in Austin, like a Jamaican restaurant. Or to be around people that are so much different than us.
Austin has a large Mexican-American population, so there is a different culture — the Tex-Mex culture — but that's all there is. Whereas when I flew in to Tampa for the job, the cab driver spoke Haitian (Creole); there's Spanish everywhere and on the radio stations, which we don't really have in Austin. And here, he goes to a Montessori school and if you read names from his class, it sounds like an international school. It's neat.
What do you miss most about Texas?
What I really miss is the public transportation. We only owned one car until we moved here and had to buy a second car. I would ride my bike to work — it was 8 miles away and it was a very safe ride.
We had light rail, and it was a mile away from my house. I would ride my bike there and put my bike on the train then get off a mile before work and ride my bike.
Austin also had a car sharing program that had 300 cars that you could pick up anywhere you found one. They had a GPS phone app where you could track where the cars were, and I could actually put my bike in the car.
So I was riding the bus, riding light rail, doing car sharing, riding my bike and walking. It was amazing.
Then I moved from that to the most dangerous place to be a cyclist or pedestrian in the whole country. So that part really bums me out. If there was anything I'd like to see come to Hillsborough County, it's that.
Sunday Conversation is edited for clarity and brevity.