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He wants to resurrect Safety Village, the tiny version of Tampa. The first piece is done.

A replica of the train that was once part of Tampa’s Safety Village, a Lilliputian version of the city used to teach children pedestrian, traffic and fire safety. Ryan Martin is seeking to rebuild the former attraction piece by piece. [Photo courtesy of Ryan Martin]
Published Jul. 10

Fans of Ryan Martin's work say that what he pulled off is no small feat.

"He is a local hero," Tampa City Councilman Guido Maniscalco said. "It's really wonderful to see a young person show so much interest and dedication to something that is beloved and remembered by so many in Tampa."

Martin might be the biggest fan of Safety Village, a 1.6-acre site at Lowry Park that for over 40 years,hosted a Lilliputian version of Tampa used to teach children pedestrian, traffic and fire safety.

It's been gone for more than a decade.

Nearly a year ago, Martin announced his intention to recreate Safety Village piece by piece.

Grown-up fan resurrecting Safety Village, a tiny version of Tampa once beloved by kids

He recently finished the first piece — a three-foot tall, seven-foot long, blue-and-yellow smiling locomotive towing a red train car.

It was on display at Lowry Park on June 22.

That was the same day as the St. Pete Pride Festival and the Warrior Games drew large crowds, so fanfare for his train was minuscule, Martin admits.

But he'd like to bring it back to Tampa again.

"Hopefully others will want to display it," said Martin, a 26-year-old Tampa native now residing in Orlando where he works as a caricature artist.

Meantime, Martin is raising funds to build the train station.

"I need to get more people involved," he said. "So far it has been me putting my money where my mouth is."

Martin estimates it cost him $4,000 to build the train. It would have been more, but welders provided in-kind services.

"They saw this as a passion project," Martin said. "They knew it meant a lot to me to bring back Safety Village."

Sponsored by the city of Tampa, Safety Village opened in December 1965.

It was made up of downsized replicas of buildings like a bank, fire station and Tampa's City Hall.

Class trips there were a regular part of the curricula of many local schools, so students could learn safety concepts such as crossing the street and crime prevention.

In 1989 the Children's Museum of Tampa took over Safety Village, renamed it Kid City and expanded the size of the exhibits so that children could walk inside buildings.

Kid City shuttered in 2008 when the Children's Museum acquired the land near the Hillsborough River downtown where it is located today.

Martin, then a high school student, was part of a group who unsuccessfully lobbied the city to save the tiny buildings.

Then, in 2017, Martin learned that Richard Gonzmart was restoring surviving pieces of Fairyland to be placed outside his Ulele Restaurant. Razed in 1996 and also formerly a part of Lowry Park, Fairyland was a series of life-sized concrete and fiberglass nursery rhyme figures.

That inspired Martin's efforts. He started with the train because it was his favorite when he was a child.

"He maintained focus and he accomplished the first step of his vision," said Rex Gordon, who follows Martin's efforts on the Facebook page Rebuild Tampa's Safety Village. "It took a lot of effort and resources, but he did it."

Today, the former site of Safety Village is a parking lot for employees of ZooTampa at Lowry Park.

Before heading back to Orlando on June 22, Martin was allowed to bring the train to that parking lot.

"Back when that was Safety Village, the train was in the northwest corner of the village," Martin said.

So, he set up the train there and snapped photos.

"The feeling is pretty awesome," Martin said. "I want to bring back all of Safety Village and hopefully people help that happen."

Contact Paul Guzzo at pguzzo@tampabay.com or follow @PGuzzoTimes

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