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Goodbye to parking, but hello to panache

During the 12 years I have toiled for the Times, my desk has been in the appropriately named Times Building on Ashley Drive, and I have parked in a lot just north of the building next to the old Holiday Inn hotel, now known as the Ashley Plaza Hotel.

With editors and some privileged reporters getting to park in the main lot across from the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, those in the newsroom relegated to the north parking area jokingly refer to it as "Loserville."

Over the years, I've adapted to the short jaunt to the north lot, which is nothing compared to the parking hikes made by many downtown workers.

The attendants who run the booth for nighttime events always have something nice to say, and it's usually interesting to see folks all dressed up and headed for the performing arts center events.

Of course, there was that one night I was greeted by a funny smell and some odd-looking fans of rock band Widespread Panic.

But now it appears I'm gong to have to adapt to a new parking area. Denholtz Associates, which owns our building and the parking lot, plans to build a residential complex on the property.

The company isn't ready to release details, but a Denholtz official confirmed the residential plans on Wednesday. They say that's the best use for the lot, and I couldn't agree more.

Since I started working in this building, I've waited for the north side of town to become more vibrant, and now it's beginning to happen.

In addition to Denholtz's plans, the Tampa City Council has approved a 381-unit condominium/retail project at the southeast corner of Ashley and Polk streets. And then there are the cultural arts district plans, new designs for the old federal courthouse and a proposed Riverwalk.

Some day soon, downtown buzz is going to be more than just the state of happy hour patrons at The Hub.

Still, I had to ask: Where am I going to park?

The Denholtz official assured me accommodations would be made. The idea is to build a parking garage on the main lot between the Times Building and the performing arts center.

THEY HAVE GONE TO CONCERTS together, they have done public service announcements together and now they are appearing in a theater production.

Tampa mayor Pam Iorio and St. Petersburg mayor Rick Baker take the stage in Crossing The Bay tonight at 7:30 in Shorecrest Prep's Janet Root Theatre.

The mayors make cameo roles for two nights only in the LiveArts musical production. In addition to tonight, they also will perform on Jan. 26 when the musical opens in Tampa at the Falk Theatre.

The play runs through Jan. 23 at Janet Root Theatre and Jan. 25 to Jan. 30 at the Falk Theatre. Call (727) 490-7367 for more information, or visit www.crossingthebay.com.

The mayors appear in the opening scene, which takes place in Wardsville, the original name given to St. Petersburg. The play focuses on the formative days of Tampa and St. Petersburg and deals with the coming of the railroad to the Pinellas peninsula.

LiveArts executive director Harry Chittenden said Baker proposed the idea last summer when he met with him to discuss the musical, which takes place in the late 19th century.

Baker also made an appearance in LiveArts' Webb's City: The Musical.

"He's a damn good actor. So is Mayor Iorio," Chittenden said. "Both of these folks are real history buffs and they get a real kick out of dressing up in period costumes."

The show pokes fun at the long-standing rivalry between Tampa and St. Petersburg, which, as Chittenden says, has existed since there was nothing here but mosquitoes and trees.

But the play, like life today, ends with a theme that the cities are better off working together. I'm just glad that Iorio and Baker have embraced that philosophy.

That's all I'm saying.

_ Ernest Hooper can be reached at (813) 226-3406 or Hoopersptimes.com.

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