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A vibrant, affordable, reality-TV Tampa?

For years, downtown Tampa's vacant Kress building has been a grim vision of boarded-up windows, promotional posters and unfulfilled potential.

It was anything but appealing.

Now that's changed.

Earlier this month, vibrant, giant-sized paintings went up on the Kress building and two other vacant properties in the North Franklin area: the Griffin building and the Maas Brothers building.

The paintings are part of Growing Panes, a Tampa Downtown Partnership and city of Tampa public art program. Local artists and students painted 4-by-8-foot plywood sheets in the likeness of Tampa postcards.

Mayor Pam Iorio welcomed the new project Monday during a brief media conference, saying it was a great way to temporarily doll up buildings "not quite ready for prime time."

The idea is to create aesthetically pleasing views that will generate badly needed pedestrian traffic on the north end of downtown.

And who knows, maybe one of those pedestrians will be a developer who sees real potential in places like the Kress building.

What I find really encouraging about downtown's redevelopment is the city's recognition it has to be more than pricey condos. Tower projects by Donald Trump are fine, but young people need a hip, trendy place to call home. Besides, entry-level professionals don't have a lot of money for mortgages after Uggs and Rocawear.

And, of course, downtown workers weary of commuting would flip over a townhouse or loft with a manageable price tag.

To that end, the Downtown Partnership is teaming with the Local Initiatives Service Corp. and Washington Mutual for a one-hour, noon workshop on affordable homeownership Jan. 19 at the Tampa Convention Center. Partnership president Christine Burdick said the organization is committed to encouraging more mixed-income housing downtown.

"We're going to build a drumbeat to make people aware downtown should be open to everybody," she said.

The workshop costs $10 in advance. To register, go to www.tampasdowntown.com or call (813) 221-3686.

Like the Growing Panes program, the Tampa Bay Business Committee for the Arts wants to make the arts more visible but with a different approach.

The committee has come out with its second annual Tampa Bay Cultural Calendar, and it's so well-designed, I needed only 60 seconds to find events that captured my interest. Did you know: The Tampa Museum of Art stays open until 8 p.m. on the third Thursday of every month; the Chinese Golden Dragon Acrobats perform on Jan. 23 at Mahaffey Theater; and American Stage will stir up 8-Track: The Sounds of the 70s musical Jan. 21-30.

When you consider I was listening to Chic while writing this column, the idea of a '70s musical revue has me looking forward to some Good Times.

The calendar will be distributed to all fourth- and fifth-graders in the Hillsborough and Pinellas County school systems. A limited number of copies also are available through the committee. Call (813) 221-2787.

All this talk about Trump building a downtown tower has folks believing Tampa has finally arrived. Being the ultimate homer that I am, I think we're a lot closer to arriving than others may realize.

But a true defining moment would be serving as a host city for The Real World. Forget the Super Bowl; tell the chamber to bring MTV's groundbreaking reality series to our humble city and put us in the ranks with New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Okay, that's a stretch, but we're as deserving as San Diego.

After all, Tampa Bay has reality credentials. Tampa's Melissa Howard was the star of The Real World: New Orleans; Valrico's Mary Delgado won the last installment of The Bachelor and Lutz teacher Jan Gentry was a Survivor: Thailand finalist.

Come on, MTV: Gather seven strangers, put them in a Channel District loft, give them jobs at the aquarium and unleash them on Ybor at night.

That's all I'm saying.

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

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