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Q&A: A business leader and historian jointly delve into Tampa's waterfront

TAMPA — As a native of Tampa, Arthur Savage has always had a passion for his hometown's history. And as a third-generation owner and operator of A.R. Savage & Son, a Tampa-based shipping agency, his affinity for his hometown also extends to its local waterways.

Savage decided he wanted to chronicle the history of Tampa Bay's waterfront as a way to marry the two.

"But I'm no historian and I'm no writer," said Savage, during an interview with the Tampa Bay Times. "I knew I would need help to do this."

So he enlisted Rodney Kite-Powell, curator of the Tampa Bay History Center, who agreed to help Savage set out on a two-and-a-half-year journey delving into how and what shaped Tampa Bay and its waterways. The transformation of Tampa and St. Petersburg from settlements into cities is thanks in part to port access and the development of local shipping channels, as chronicled in "Tampa Bay's Waterfront: Its History & Development."

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The 155-page, hardcover book is complete with historic images of bygone eras in Tampa Bay, and includes maps that show how the region developed through the decades. The book, which was published earlier this year, seems more relevant now than ever before. Billions of dollars in investment is going toward transformative commercial real estate projects along Tampa's Riverwalk. That includes $3 billion alone for Water Street Tampa, a 57-acre redevelopment whose developer enlisted the help of Kite-Powell and the history center to come up with an authentic and historic name for the district.

Savage and Kite-Powell sat down with the Times to talk more about the book.

So tell me more about your family's history in Tampa Bay.

Savage: I'm the grandson of Arthur Russell Savage, who founded A.R. Savage & Son in 1945. But my great, great grandfather is Captain James McKay Sr., who in 1846, sailed into Tampa Bay and pioneered commercial shipping on the west coast of Florida. There's a bust of his face on the Tampa Riverwalk now, not far from the Tampa Convention Center. He and his son developed regular commercial shipping in and out of Tampa Bay. And then later their cousins, the Lykes family, would take over the ship owning side of the business.

My grandfather founded the company after he was transferred to Tampa by the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad in 1929 to become the superintendent of Port Tampa. I grew up in a tugboat on Tampa's Riverwalk. It's been a journey to remember what Tampa looked like then, and many years before that.

What were some of the most surprising or interesting facts you uncovered in your research?

Kite-Powell: It is interesting to see how Tampa and St. Petersburg developed in different ways. Westshore Boulevard in Tampa used to be right on the peninsula, bordering the bay. In the 1930s, we started to see this gradual shift away from using ferries to get across the bay and instead building bridges. As you look at the maps through the years, which we included in the book, you can see how Egmont Key is shrinking from natural and man-made changes. A lot of the images we included came from private collections. We interviewed a lot of people who owned businesses in Tampa Bay through the years. This book is a wonderful resource to those who are involved with shaping Tampa Bay's future.

There seems to be a lot of interest in the history of the waterfront recently. Why do you think that is?

Kite-Powell: It's just a great coincidence, really. Tampa is really an industrial waterfront, but we're seeing that start to change with new projects. We cover that in the book too, looking at the projects that will help change Tampa's skyline in the future. Meanwhile St. Petersburg's waterfront was developed with tourists in mind through parks and less port capabilities. But truly what influenced that was events that date back to the 1890s and how the cities went down different paths due to the development of the rail lines.

Contact Justine Griffin at or (727) 893-8467. Follow @SunBizGriffin.