TAMPA — Fort Wayne, Ind., Phoenix, Ariz., and Inglewood, Calif., joined seven other American cities honored as the nation's best at downtown Tampa's Marriott Waterside Friday night.
But the host city was not among them.
After months of preparation for a presentation at the National Civic League's All-America City Awards, Tampa boosters left without the title they had so diligently sought.
It wasn't for lack of enthusiasm. Thursday, a parade of about 90 delegates bellowing T-A-M-P-A, Go Tampa! streamed into the hotel's grand ballroom, led by a five-man drum line.
In its presentation to jurors Thursday, the Tampa delegation highlighted efforts to revitalize East Tampa, the widening of 40th Street, and Sulphur Springs Elementary's climb from academic failure.
Their pitch wasn't sweeping or fantastical. One juror said Thursday he expected Tampa to present big-bang projects.
But that's not the city's style, Mayor Pam Iorio explained.
Even as Iorio's role went from cheerleader on Thursday to consoler on Friday, her message was unchanged.
"People who live here know that Tampa is a great city, and we are so proud of the quality of life here," Iorio said. "Without any award, what matters is what we offer people every single day."
Her optimism was echoed even by the tearful participants who had waited throughout the two-hour ceremony only to never hear Tampa called.
Shannon Edge, the city's neighborhood and community relations director, had been orchestrating Thursday's presentation since December. While an award would have affirmed their hard work, she said, the true reward doesn't come on a plaque.
"You fell in love with Tampa again realizing all the good we do," she said of the months-long experience.
The National Civic League competition pitted 29 finalists against one another to sell their hometowns as the best in the nation. Judged on civic engagement, inclusiveness, community development and innovation, each city could present three projects that conveyed those values.
Iorio said Tampa will likely apply again next year, despite this year's stiff competition. The city may incorporate a few of the ideas that jurors looked upon so fondly, she said.
"I'm going to take a look at all of them," she said, "and see if there is something that applies to Tampa."
Steven Overly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3435.