As a rule, we reporters do not like ribbon-cuttings. Manufactured news, we sniff. Feel-good dreck, we assume. Ditto public officials holding giant checks, hard-hatted politicians awkwardly wielding shovels, and anything involving giant scissors.
But a rolling ribbon-cutting of downtown Tampa openings, marking milestones of a city slowly evolving? Okay, I'll bite.
So there stood Mayor Bob Buckhorn outside a new Irish pub called the Paddywagon at the bottom of a slick residential high-rise. From behind the bar they offered him not giant scissors but a fat, frosty glass. "I may tip a wee pint," allowed the very Irish mayor.
But this is Tampa, a place that tends to scrap, fidget and fight its way toward progress rather than sail smoothly, and even a trendy new pub in a once-desolate downtown is not without controversy. The local leader of an Irish heritage group already has chided the mayor for the paddy wagon reference, a term "to denigrate Irish-Catholics," he said.
This, for a mayor who each March dyes the Hillsborough River kelly green!
Speaking of which: A downtown that hid its pretty river for decades is closer to finishing its Riverwalk, a long and winding, bikable and walkable waterside path. Fresh off the Republican National Convention, this town next summer hosts India's Bollywood Oscars (Boscars?) The mind reels.
A few blocks over there is more cutting of ribbon at something called Anise Global Gastrobar, a throbbing, dark, too-cool-for-me place where you can apparently order truffled tater tots with your hibiscus margarita. It joins Thai, Vietnamese, Jamaican, Spanish, Greek and assorted other food options in the same downtown where a bite after work once meant picking your fixings at Subway.
Between ribbon-cuttings we pass the new Duckweed Urban Market, reborn from its former tiny bodega space into a bright grocery where you can pick up Alpo, dish soap and organic apples. No, Tampa has not caught up to its across-the-bay rival St. Pete with a full-service downtown grocery just yet. In fact, Publix, beloved to many a Southerner, declined to join our rising Encore urban redevelopment. But a Channel District project recently before the City Council makes mention of grocery store space. Rumors persist of Publix — or Whole Foods in all its takeout glory — arriving in due time.
I count dogs, my nonscientific way of assessing how far we've come in terms of people living here, leashed dogs being legion in downtown St. Pete. This evening I count six in 10 minutes, including two pit bulls pulling a tattooed owner and a blond wheaten terrier with a haircut more expensive than any I will ever get.
A day after the ribbon-cuttings, the mayor presents his $830.9 million budget to the City Council to audience applause. (Okay, so lots of city employees were in the audience.) He reeled off happy stats: One of America's 50 best cities (Bloomberg Businessweek), one of Florida's most pro-equality cities (Human Rights Campaign), a top city for starting a business (Kiplinger). This budget has the feel of slowly emerging from a deep economic slumber, of sprigs of green poking through sidewalk cracks after a long and dry summer.
At the Paddywagon, Buckhorn hoisted a foam-collared Guinness and looked at his city. "It's good to be the mayor," he said, "isn't it?"