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Dancing with downtown

"The report of my death was an exaggeration."

When Mark Twain needed to get that message out, he sent a cable. Downtown Tampa should send a fax.

Downtown is not dead despite the long-faced mourners who have been praying over the city's sluggish urban core for two years. It's time to stop this premature burial: The patient not only has a pulse, it just might start dancing at any moment.

Lifesaving news came from numerous fronts lately.

Mayor Sandy Freedman's office announced that it is negotiating with a single company to build the long-awaited convention center hotel. The Kilroy Industries proposal seems strong and, best of all, it requires no upfront cash from the city. The hotel should be open by early 1995.

The $84-million Florida Aquarium, the anchor of Tampa's harbor restoration, has its money in the bank. The project, which is expected to lure 1.6-million visitors a year, should also be open by the spring of 1995.

The success of the Aquarium project might also help lure a proposed pirate museum here from Boston and make a downtown music dome and other waterfront projects a reality.

A restaurant and bar named for local blues legend James Peterson is about to open. Two other restaurants are also in the works on the northern end of the Franklin Street Mall.

And a consortium of downtown businesses, banks and utilities operating as the Tampa Downtown Partnership, are starting a new organization that will actively promote downtown development by buying or getting options to buy land.

One project that group hopes to tackle is bringing Tampa's proposed hockey arena downtown. The move is timely, since the Tampa Coliseum Inc.'s plan to build the arena near Tampa Stadium remains fuzzy.

Downtown still has too many boarded storefronts and empty office towers to be given a clean bill of health, but it is time to cancel the funeral and put away the hankies.

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