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Buckhorn dreams of trees in downtown Tampa, but first he should plant a grocery, other stores

For a moment there I wasn't sure if I was sitting across from Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn or the poet Joyce Kilmer, waxing poetic about trees.

Hizzoner had been asked about revitalizing Tampa's downtown economic development. And let's face it, while the city has indeed seen some growth with respect to new eateries popping up downtown, the area still creaks under the weight of empty storefronts.

Ah, but where you might see urban blight, Bob Buckhorn, the David Attenborough of the Big Guava, sees spreading chestnut trees.

Shortly after assuming office, Buckhorn found himself in the company of former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker, who suggested that one way to get everybody all gaga over a downtown is to start planting trees.

Apparently during his time in office Baker practically had a spare office in the gardening department at Lowe's. Indeed, an almost giddy Buckhorn noted that Baker worked out a system of tree planting in which the foliage would bloom at staggered times, thus ensuring some kind of color was always popping out somewhere.

And thus, when he's not fretting over plots by Trotskyites to disrupt next summer's Republican National Convention, or working out the details to play footsie with the Tampa Bay Rays, Buckhorn walks the moors of Tampa dreaming of California's redwoods.

This is all very nice, of course. Really now, who doesn't love a lush tree or two, unless you happen to be playing golf and the darn things keep jumping in front of your shot?

So if Bob Buckhorn wants to transform downtown Tampa into the Ocala National Forest meets Washington's cherry blossom festival, well, what can one say except "Bully for you."

The mayor is of the opinion that if he can change the vegetative aesthetics of downtown Tampa, why it will only be a matter of time before all manner of merchants will be taking up residence in the city simply to be a part of the color of the place.

And who is to say he's wrong?

Still, it might be argued that the mayor might want to think less about poplars and a little more about panty hose — figuratively speaking, of course.

Far be it from this space to second-guess the mayor, but while downtown might benefit from a cavalcade of leaves, wouldn't having a grocery store in the center of the place, or even modest retail stores generate more economic vitality?

To be fair, there is a CVS pharmacy downtown that would seem to have the corner on the panty-hose cartel. But after decades of looking like something out of a desolate Mad Max movie, at last Tampa is beginning to attract full-time residents. The Tampa Downtown Partnership recently reported that 85 percent of downtown dwellings were occupied, 3 percentage points higher than the state average.

That means that nearly 4,000 downtown residences are occupied. Or put another way, there are thousands of people living downtown who cannot buy a loaf of bread or a bottle of wine or shoes without still having to get in a car, which sort of defies the whole point of urban living.

And let us not forget the thousands more who come into downtown every day, who don't have much else to do on a lunch hour than stare at trees.

Thinking big is a fundamental part of being mayor. And Buckhorn is certainly off to a good start with the grand vision thing, which obviously includes transforming downtown Tampa into a botanical garden.

But along the way, Mr. Mayor, do you think you could find some space between the forest for a tree or two of a Steinmart or a Publix? A downtown filled with residents simply looking for a place to shop would be forever grateful.

Buckhorn dreams of trees in downtown Tampa, but first he should plant a grocery, other stores 09/24/11 [Last modified: Saturday, September 24, 2011 5:30am]

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