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  1. Opinion

Ruth: New vision for Temple Terrace

Paris has the Eiffel Tower defining its skyline. Chicago has the Sears, make that the Willis Tower, and New York certainly has its Empire State Building. Tampa even has the iconic University of Tampa minarets for its unique calling card.

And then, there is historic Temple Terrace, a city closely identified with … uh … er … wait a minute, something will come to mind. Chirping crickets? Novenas? The sounds of silence? Okay, if you insist, there is the renowned Temple Terrace Bat Tower. How — chic.

Think of Temple Terrace, if you think of it at all, and you're likely to associate the city with being a quiet bedroom community of lovely homes intersected by the bucolic Temple Terrace Country Club. And there's Florida College and the meandering waters of the Hillsborough River.

Temple Terrace claims the distinction of being the third largest city in Hillsborough County with a population of about 25,000 people. It's a very nice place to live. And yet, it lacks one thing most cities that call themselves cities claim to have: a distinct downtown area.

That may change soon.

After some fits and starts to create a downtown atmosphere, the Temple Terrace City Council has approved a package of zoning guidelines in the hope of creating an honest-to-goodness downtown complex on 22 acres of land at 56th Street and the Bullard Parkway.

What are some of those guidelines? Let's put it this way: Chances are you will not be able to satisfy your tattoo dreams in the eventual tres chichi Temple Terrace downtown.

This is a unique urban opportunity. Rarely does a city get the opportunity to completely re-imagine its downtown space. It's certainly true Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik's plans for downtown Tampa will revitalize and enhance the city. But Tampa already was on the way to breathing new life into its core.

Temple Terrace had nothing.

If you were an urban planner or a Temple Terrace big shot and you had a 22-acre open canvas to create a downtown environment from scratch, would you want to include massage parlors, fireworks emporiums and roadside merchants selling Elvis throw rugs?

That would be no. So, the city will be moving to create a residential, commercial and retail hub that could include at least one company headquarters. Or think of the newly emerging metropolis of Temple Terrace roughly along the lines of the Westchase area commercial district.

Will there be the obligatory Starbucks? This is even a question?

Cities are organic entities. Their downtowns say a lot about how a city views itself. It says something about the local culture. It expresses a city's self-image. Temple Terrace was incorporated in 1925. Or put another way, it has taken the city 90 years to get around to defining itself.

Why rush into things? There is something to be said for serious, sober reflection.

The new Temple Terrace downtown will not evolve over night. There will be tiffs, disagreements and spats between developers and the city. After all, this is 22 acres of largely open real estate in a urban environment.

That's not just dirt. It's a Gold-Mine-on-the-Hillsborough.