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The fire and Ybor's future

Published Sep. 27, 2005

Ybor City, a cornerstone of Tampa's history and collective psyche, has seen more than its share of triumphs and tragedies over the years. The terrifying fire that engulfed sections of Ybor Friday will be remembered as one of the saddest chapters of that rich history. City and neighborhood leaders should do everything in their power to ensure that the fire represents only a setback, rather than a permanent defeat, for Ybor's struggling redevelopment efforts.

The explosion of activity in Ybor's entertainment district in recent years has been a one-dimensional phenomenon. The visitors who pack Ybor's restaurants, bars and tattoo parlors every weekend have reinvigorated a district that had been moribund for decades, but that uncontrolled development stampeded much of Ybor's pre-existing commercial and residential community.

The Ybor post office, gutted by the fire, was one of the neighborhood's most prominent landmarks of normal activity during the day. Little but rubble remains of the half-completed apartment complex that was to have been the most prominent element of the city's effort to bring full-time residents back to Ybor. That project needs to be replicated, and if possible improved upon, if Ybor is to become a self-sustaining community again.

The extreme drought conditions affecting the entire region made Friday's fire even more dangerous. Only the quick and courageous work of local firefighters prevented a far larger human and economic toll. The community came together Friday to save Ybor from catastrophe, but an even larger and more sustained community effort will be needed to help historic Ybor rise beyond a day of destruction and decades of neglect.