Forget that downtown Tampa has plans for its first shiny new office tower in two decades. Forget winning $10.9 million in federal funding to finish the picturesque Riverwalk. Forget, even, thousands of visitors soon to arrive for the big Republican party.
No, wait, don't forget those people — they're part of a situation that one concerned citizen called a "tempest in a cup of cafe con leche."
Yes, Tampa has officially lost its mind over a sign.
Debate about what street sign should grace Seventh Avenue, Ybor City's lively main drag of restaurants, clubs and shops framed in old brick and wrought iron, is hardscrabble history versus modern correctness, then against now. At public meetings on this, people on both sides have teared up.
Here is the con leche tempest: Seventh Avenue is marked with signs that also say La Setima, not with what some call the more accepted and correct spelling of "seventh" with the letter "p" in it, La Septima.
Some setima supporters say the word is colloquial homage to the way many immigrants pronounced it, given their mix of Spanish, English and a little Italian. ("Spanglish," a council member said, though I bet someone could argue over that spelling, too.)
But the purists said: How embarrassing, misspelled street signs for all the world to see when thousands of outsiders come for the Republican National Convention in August and inevitably tromp through our Latin Quarter for fun, food, beverages and maybe a little local history. So the City Council initially voted to add the "p" and make it septima.
At the next meeting, even more contention. A sampling from the people who spoke: "Don't wipe away one of the things we will have left to make us unique."
Versus: "Don't make us all ridiculous."
An 82-year-old resident who didn't hear it pronounced "septima" until high school Spanish class told the council, "La Setima is not just about a number; it represents a place."
A purist countered: "The nation's eyes will be upon us."
And so it went. And went. And went.
I should say for the record my heart is with the setima lobby and a word that speaks to Ybor's unique culture mix. Why would you want to erase that kind of history?
A better question: Who doesn't appreciate a good compromise?
Council member Yvonne Yolie Capin did her homework, consulted the Royal Spanish Academy dictionary and other sources, and reported that with an accent mark over the "e," both spellings are correct. How about both La Sétima and La Séptima under "7th Ave" on those street signs? The best of both worlds!
And still, some seem unwilling to budge.
"When will this foolishness stop?" asked a citizen at the last meeting, and it's a good question. How's next Thursday, when the City Council again considers history, correctness and compromise?
Maybe it will pass in the spirit of people getting along and moving on even if they differ, kind of like what built Ybor City in the first place. Then we can get back to the business of the city, knowing that little piece of history lives on.
Sue Carlton can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3376.