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Tampa Council votes to keep Ybor City signs

A Seventh Avenue sign in Ybor City has a Spanish language counterpart using the slang “La Setima,” approved in 1998.

GEN YAMAGUCHI | Times

A Seventh Avenue sign in Ybor City has a Spanish language counterpart using the slang “La Setima,” approved in 1998.

TAMPA — History won the hearts of City Council members Thursday in a controversy over honorary signs on Ybor City's Seventh Avenue.

The council voted to leave up the secondary signs that label Seventh Avenue, Ybor's main drag, "La Setima," a term used by the historic district's early residents.

Ybor activist Fran Costantino lobbied the council to get rid of the signs, saying the proper spelling is "Septima." The current signs, approved by City Council in 1998, makes Tampa look ignorant, she argued.

"We know it's a colloquialism, but the tourists and Super Bowl people coming don't know that," Costantino said.

But supporters of the existing signs say they are a nod to Ybor's past.

"This is about memory, this is about history, this is about making a good story," said Ybor City Chamber of Commerce executive director Tom Keating.

The Ybor City Development Council, a city agency, also supported leaving the signs alone.

Council members Linda Saul-Sena and Mary Mulhern voted to eliminate them.

"What I'm proposing is that we remove the controversy," said Saul-Sena, who wanted to eliminate the Spanish language signs altogether. "We should call it Seventh Avenue."

Dialects and pronunciation vary, Mulhern said.

"But spelling is pretty cut and dried," she said. "I'd like to see us use the correct spelling and people can say it however they want."

Mulhern said that, as someone who relocated to Tampa from Chicago, she sees a city that resists change.

"This sort of thing could possibly make us look less literate," she said. "And I think it's important for this to be known as a city that knows how to spell."

Mulhern said she found the controversy interesting, and planned to bring it to the attention of New York Times writer William Safire, who writes a column called "On Language."

However, a majority of the council, sitting as the Community Redevelopment Agency, rejected the idea.

"I was born in Ybor City, I was raised in Ybor City," said council member Charlie Miranda, who voted to leave the signs in place.

As a kid, he said, he often didn't know the names of his neighbors, but when he referred to the "blonde lady's daughter" or "the guy with one eye," everyone knew who he was talking about.

"We nicknamed so many things, and those nicknames stuck," he said.

Council member Tom Scott said as an elected official, it's impossible to "remove controversy," as Saul-Sena suggested.

"You either make somebody unhappy or you make them happy," he said. "It's as simple as that."

The cost of removing the signs was estimated at $1,328 to $3,110.

Costantino said she had backing from dozens of people who wanted the signs taken down, but the battle is now over.

"I tried to give the people who wanted it changed a forum and we didn't win," she said. "As far as I'm concerned the case is closed."

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.

Tampa Council votes to keep Ybor City signs 01/15/09 [Last modified: Thursday, January 15, 2009 11:53pm]
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