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Daniel Ruth

The pencil-pushing prig crew

Uh, it's just the Hillsborough River folks. It's not the Seine, or the Blue Danube, or even the Suwannee.

It's just the nondescript, meandering, kinda, sorta just — there — Hillsborough River, the tired, old sock drawer of rivers. And oh yes, there is the occasional stiff floating by to liven things up a bit.

But if some lanyard-wearing, clipboard clutching, pocket-protector-armed bureaucrats have their way, one of the very few iconic charms of the Hillsborough River will literally be white-washed away — all for the sake of tidiness, order and stultifying uniformity.

One of Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio's visions for the city has been the creation of a gleaming, hotsy-totsy riverwalk, so people can stroll along the banks of the Hillsborough taking in the metropolitan delights of downtown including … well … can I get back to you on that one?

For decades, the Hillsborough River has been home to countless university rowing crews who come to Tampa to train and compete. Tradition holds that at some point during their stay, students paint their school's name and logo on the river's seawall. You name a school with a rowing crew, and chances are they've been here and left their mark.

Now Lee Hoffman, the city's riverwalk czar, wants to paint over the seawall calling cards, especially around the area directly across from the newly renovated $15 million Curtis Hixon Park, arguing visitors probably don't want to gaze across the river to learn that a crew from Yale University might have actually dipped an oar in our pristine waters.

So Hoffman is leading the charge to paint over the crew markings, presumably on the notion it is much better for Curtis Hixon Park habitues to be able to look up from their bottles of muscatel, cast their vision to the west and see — nothing.

"The question is: How do you want your city to be presented to the public?" Hoffman asked the Times Janet Zink. "Do you want to continue to have crew art, or whatever you want to call it, to proliferate, or do you want to restrict that in some way?"

The counting of the strawberries will commence immediately.

This is what happens when a city starts that long, wadded bloomer slide into becoming one pinched, humorless homeowner association.

Good grief, you would think Hoffman would embrace the crew paintings, if for no other reason than to demonstrate that someone has actually spent time in downtown Tampa.

Tampa is famous around the world for its lap-dancing trollops, its bacchanal-esque vomitous Ybor City and its annual Gasparilla festival, which features some of the cheesiest floozies a pair of cheap beads can buy. And city bureaucrats dither over some college students painting "Rutgers Was Here" on a seawall?

How do we want the city to be presented to the public? What's wrong with a perception that Tampa warmly welcomes college students to come here, improve their athletic skills and have some fun that doesn't involve relieving themselves along Bayshore Boulevard at high noon?

As for the crew "art," Tampa is also known as the epicenter of some of the most atrocious public artwork this side of Saddam Hussein's once towering statue in the heart of Baghdad.

Art? Art! We'll see what happens when the new Tampa Museum of Art (la-dee-dah, la-dee-dah) opens. But for decades, the city's idea of an art gallery was some Greek pots and pans and children's finger painting. So the city is hardly in a position to pass judgment on some college students who proudly want to display their university affiliation.

Hoffman worries about "proliferation," as if to suggest if we continue to permit students from the nation's campuses to come here and paint the name of their school on a seawall it's only the beginning of a slippery slope. These kids will start scribbling the identity of their alma mater on the front door of City Hall, or perhaps even in front of the hallowed County Commission. Where does it end?

There is no significant evidence the crew logos have become a rampant graffiti epidemic. The rowers have seemed perfectly content to express themselves simply along the banks of the river and then go have a beer someplace and with luck engage in recreational sex.

Of course, this being a case of bureaucrats acting like bureaucrats, meetings must be held, great clucking and harrumphing must be conducted, "policies" must be created, drafted and pondered — all with an eye of turning what was once simple, fun, light-hearted aspect of Tampa's quirky identity into gray banality.

Here's some bad news for Hoffman and his cadre of three-ring binders. The paper-pushers can craft all the policies, procedures and regulations they want, but the crews will continue to come to Tampa with their paddles — and paint brushes.

The pencil-pushing prig crew 10/15/09 [Last modified: Thursday, October 15, 2009 6:26pm]

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