We’re More than Tampa Bay

“Tampa Bay Everything” bugs me. Yes, yes, Gulfport, St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Clearwater Beach, Dunedin and so forth are part of an area someone at sometime began referring to as Tampa Bay. However, while it describes an area which is defined by a natural large, body of water named Tampa Bay, it says absolutely nothing about the communities of Pinellas County. Those areas are, in reality, as much defined by Boca Ciega Bay and the Gulf of Mexico – a really big body of water – as Tampa Bay.

My point is that Tampa Bay does nothing for the identity of anything in Pinellas County. Pinellas is swallowed, blanked out. When people ask where I’m from and I answer “St. Petersburg,” the response is a blank look. Then, when I point out it is west and south of Tampa, they say vaguely, “Oh, o.k.” Which means that they can identify Tampa and have a vague idea about a vague place such as St. Petersburg. Say “Clearwater Beach” and there might be a quicker recollection since it gets a lot of tourist publicity.

To say that St. Petersburg and most of the communities of Pinellas County are under-promoted is an under statement. It didn’t help that the Rays are named the Tampa Bay Rays. That was an unsuccessful attempt to get a bigger audience. All the other major sports teams – hockey and football – are in Tampa. The St. Pete Times, now the Tampa Bay Times, did the same although for them it was probably a wise move in terms of circulation, national identity, and most importantly, advertising. It was all part of their very aggressive long term marketing plan. So, no fault there.

Nonetheless, the reality remains. Pinellas County, of which St. Petersburg city (the Sunshine City) is the largest entity (247,000 plus population), doesn’t get much sunshine. Neither Pinellas County (pop. 921,000) nor Hillsborough County (pop. 1,278,000) have any outside identity either. So, it’s the two big cities: St. Pete and Tampa. Tampa is about half again as big (347,000). However, the superiority ends there. Tampa doesn’t compete with St. Pete as the place to go. It competes only in the publicity it gets via “Tampa Bay.”

Yes, they have the Bucs, the Lightning, Busch Gardens, MacDill Air Force Base, Ybor City, a large aquarium, theaters and commercial and cruise ports. All nice, fun things to have and great for name recognition particularly if everything in the region is referred to as Tampa Bay.

However, as a place to go and even stay Tampa can’t compete. St. Pete has a beautiful waterfront with parks and a pier (it’s still there), a functioning small commercial airport, and a bigger functioning commercial airport, great downtown hotels and neat condominiums, attractive office space and specialty shops and restaurants, the Mahaffey Theatre and the Dali Musem, not to overlook the Musem of Fine Arts and the Museum of History, Holocaust Musem, Chihuly Museum, and a vibrant night life with local plays and music and good restaurants,  a college, and marine research center, and Coast Guard unit. This is all in a delightful, old Florida setting with a street layout and design that is easy to navigate. There is really a there, there.

That is not to ignore the neat Gulfport, Key-West-like community, Clearwater beaches, Dunedin, Tarpon Springs, beach communities, fishing, dolphin sighting, Ruth Eckerd Hall, Eckerd College, Fort De Soto Park all within easy traveling distances. I’m sure I missed more than several good places to go and see and to hang out. The reality is that Pinellas County is a peninsula with water on three sides. Water, water everywhere and a lot more, too. Hard to compete against unless we roll over and say, “Oh. We’re just a part of Tampa Bay.”

There’s no changing the label of Tampa Bay, and no sense in griping about it. I might be the only one doing so, but I doubt it. And, I’m not knocking Tampa. However, the St. Petersburg area should be promoted better. It’s one thing to be a part of a larger and broader vision and quite another to surrender your identity while doing so.

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