Dear College Football Playoff Officials:
I'm writing for two reasons: to express confidence that you will enjoy your time in Tampa Bay, and to ask a favor.
How can I be so confident? Well, we live for big events here. No one rolls out the red carpet like Tampa Bay. Our various municipalities and visitors bureaus pull together. Our elected officials morph into a singular team and the hospitality industry revs up the fun.
Now, you may experience a bit of inclement weather on Saturday and the ensuing temperature drop will be a bit below our usual sunny-and-70 weather, but in the end you're going to love it here. You'll marvel at our Riverwalk, revel over the sunshine and enjoy all the water excursions at your avail.
You'll get over to the beach — probably on Sunday — and laugh as the white, powdery sand reminds you of your friends back home sloshing through snow and enduring sub-freezing temperatures.
And I always say the best way to explore Tampa Bay is with a knife and fork, so don't leave here without savoring our treasured delicacies and enjoying our fine restaurants. Skip up to Seminole Heights, drop in to Mise En Place, go see my friend Dave at 220 East on Davis Islands, and walk the river to Ulele.
You should already have a reservation for Bern's because if you don't, it might be too late.
Trust me, you'll enjoy your time here as much as long-time residents like me enjoy living here every day.
But that favor? Yes, after you leave and assess your stay — and rave about all that you experienced — can you kindly mention to area leaders the need to improve our public transportation.
Listen, I'm not trying to rain on anyone's parade, but during your stay here — especially if you have a hotel outside Tampa's downtown core — you're probably going to discover just how difficult traveling through our region can be.
For those who drive their cars downtown for the events and the concerts and the fan experiences, they will need the latest apps to find a parking spot. Or one of those George Jetson cars that can turn into a briefcase.
Here's a tip: Park in Ybor City and take the trolly. It's one of our best transit tools on big weekends like this.
For the Clemson and Alabama fans staying on the Pinellas beaches, here's another tip. Drive over on Monday morning (after rush hour, of course) for the Monday night game and start the tailgate early. Really early. I wouldn't risk traversing the Howard Frankland Bridge anytime after 3 p.m. Seriously.
I know you may drive down Interstate 275, look at the median and say, "That's a perfect corridor for light rail."
Yes, yes it is. But that's about all we have — and a strong desire among many to create a system that connects St. Petersburg, Clearwater and Tampa in a truly successful manner.
So mention that observation in your review, and please, respectfully note you hope the next time you return to Tampa Bay you find a system of buses — and maybe light rail — that can more effectively serve fans and officials.
The truth is you won't be pointing out anything our leaders don't already know. We have sliced and diced through this issue in so many different ways, but we still don't have any meaningful solutions to serve residents — or the tourists who mean so much to our economy.
The only major discovery we've made is that we can't talk this issue to death. It's alive and growing more problematic as folks like you come to visit and decide to stay. As our population swells, our downtowns add condominiums and our suburbs keep sprouting subdivisions, we await magic, or the political fortitude to fund all our unmet transportation needs.
Our latest hope lies in greater regional cooperation and a push to get the transit authorities to work together. Like any good football team focuses on blocking and tackling, we're beginning to realize regional collaboration stands as fundamental to solving our transportation woes.
In the end, we know what we need to be a true championship community, just like the Crimson Tide and the Tigers. It's just a matter of execution. When it comes to transportation, we haven't been able to execute or even find enough coaches willing to craft and implement a successful game plan.
Sometimes we can't even get our team on the field.
But with a push from you, our leaders will not only listen but act, because not only do we want you to have a good time, we want you to come back.
That's all I'm saying.
Contact Ernest Hooper at [email protected] Follow @hoop4you