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Ybor troubles, six sister cities and a baby Buccaneer

Yogi Berra once said, "Nobody goes to that place anymore; it's too crowded."

Berra could have easily been talking about Ybor City, which seems to drive away as many people as it attracts. The entertainment district has become a festival fairground on the weekends, but the professional crowd (25-34) largely prefers South Tampa to the youth-laden throng seemingly intent only on getting drunk at the cheapest prices possible.

On the daytime side, you have the longtime business folks who have not seen a significant increase from Centro Ybor. In fact, some blame Centro for its struggles.

"Centro has sucked the life off Seventh Avenue," Walter Romeo said in a story in the Times on Tuesday.

After a two-year hiatus, Romeo tried to revive his furniture and art shop in the middle of the strip, but found no luck and closed two weeks ago. He believes too many people are making a beeline to Ybor and not walking Seventh.

Clearly, Ybor has some problems that are not going to be solved overnight, but Glenda Venable and Sandra Bragg are two Tampa natives who are hoping to make a change. They believe the district's struggles have as much to do with perception as reality.

Venable presided over her first luncheon as the new president of the Ybor City Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday. She concedes that the terrorist attacks and construction on the electric folly (I mean trolley) are tangible drags on business, but she also believes the image of being unsafe is unfair.

Part of the cure, she believes, is getting more residents to live in the district, and getting more folks from outlying neighborhoods to visit. In the coming weeks, Venable said, the chamber is going to look at ways to attract more people from New Tampa and WestChase, two areas where residents new to the city may not be totally familiar with Ybor.

Bragg recently became manager of Ybor City Main Street, which is part of the national Main Street Center for historic preservation.

"We want to help the Ybor City community come together and create a common vision that provides a positive image for businesses, visitors, residents and increase the potential economic growth," Bragg said.

Translation: Foster greater cooperation between the businesses in Ybor, including Centro. Bragg has plans for a newsletter spotlighting different businesses and face-to-face meetings between merchants.

I think a coupon book featuring all the retailers wouldn't be a bad idea either.

Venable and Bragg are not the first to try to implement change, but let's hope they succeed. Ybor is at a crossroads, and it has to make the right turn before it's too late.

The Bucs record is 4-4, but team director of communications Reggie Roberts and his wife, Deborah, have added another win. They are the proud parents of 6-pound Chase Matthew Roberts, who was born on the same day the Bucs lost to Green Bay.

Did you know Tampa has six active sister city organizations?: Agrigento, Italy; Cordoba, Argentina; Granada, Nicaragua; Izmir, Turkey; Le Havre, France; Oviedo, Spain; and Baranquilla, Colombia. But what does it mean to have a sister city?

The relationships comprise cultural, educational and business exchanges, and a group from Tampa recently completed a trade mission to Le Havre. A group of 130, including Mayor Dick Greco, had planned to travel to Oviedo, but the Sept. 14 trip was canceled in the wake of the attacks.

One piece of advice for Ybor club owners: Stop trying to drag people off the street and into your club with scantily clad women and promises of cutting to the front. It's as annoying as assaulting our senses with booming music aimed at the streets instead of the walls of the bar.

It might be fun to walk Seventh, see the kids and wonder what I would have been like when I wore a younger man's clothes, if I could hear myself think and not be harassed.

That's all I'm saying.

_ Ernest Hooper can be reached at 226-3406 or Hoopersptimes.com. His column appears on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.

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