Roberts On The Case In Ybor

To anyone who’s ever been to Ybor City other than on weekend nights, it should be apparent that there really is more to do than get a tattoo, court a decibel-induced headache or confront the inebriated.

It’s not the halcyon, nostalgic days of old, but there are restaurants; there is retail; there are art and crafts galleries. There is life after wet-zoning. And people work at jobs other than bouncing and bartending. There are eight architectural firms in Ybor. And there’s an eclectic mix of hotel, advertising, interior design, film and web-site folks.

And there’s history. As Tampa City Council member Linda Saul-Sena recently noted, “We have many Disneyesque things in Florida. But Ybor is the real deal.”

But there is that netherworld underbelly. The occasional shooting or knifing. The ad hoc vomitoriums.

The city has moved on several fronts to clean it up, including the opening of Seventh Avenue to vehicles on weekend nights, enforcing more stringent noise ordinances and implementing a teen curfew.

Now city officials want to make sure that locals – the ones easily deterred by what they know can happen in Ybor – are aware of what else Ybor has to offer besides weekend partying till the wee hours. With money generated by property tax revenues within the historic district, the city wants Tampa-based Roberts Communications to design an ad campaign and make media buys. Some $350,000 will be set aside for the purpose.

“The one strong image sitting in most people’s minds is that Ybor is all about the weekend events crowd,” explains Deanne Roberts, president of Roberts Communications. “As in that’s who is in Ybor.

“We don’t need to criticize that, but to point out that Ybor has an array of people and activities in it,” notes Roberts. “During the day and early evenings. Week-end days. Festivals on Saturdays and Sundays. You could Christmas shop at International Bazaar (at Centro). What the city is trying to accomplish is to make sure there is a more accurate, broader impression.”

And that’s the job of Roberts Communications.

“You just can’t say, ‘Oh, things are great,'” she says. “You also need systemic change. We’re going to be communicating that aggressively.”

Roberts is more than an agency of record. It’s literally a part of any solution. Earlier this year the firm relocated from West Shore to 1715 9th Avenue across from Centennial Park. It built out 6,500 square feet for its 20 employees. Last month it sponsored a promotional Early Shop Hop with The Irish Pub and Spark Branding House.

“We need more business clusters here,” points out Roberts. “We need offices. That supports the daytime businesses. Then retailers can start affording rents on Seventh Avenue. Getting weekday, day time traffic is key.”

To that end, Roberts, a former chairperson of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, rarely misses an opportunity to tout her new turf. She’s been known to go out of her way to meet people for lunch in Ybor just so she can work her Ybor agenda and include a mini tour.

In addition to lunching with bankers, real estate developers and media sorts, she also enjoys bringing her own parents, Plant High School grads now in their 80s, into Ybor for a first-hand eyeballing. She says they’ve “reconnected.”

She showed them the reincarnated streetcar and took them to a Greek restaurant. “There was a belly dancer and my mother (Bette Dewey) started dancing,” recalls Roberts. “Had I not made the effort, my parents would not have known there was an Acropolis (restaurant).”

That’s really a microcosm of the task at hand: to get people to come and see for themselves that there’s more than just the raucous, late-night club scene.

As for Roberts, she’s observed enough since relocating in March to see a future.

“I’ve been to my landlord and said, ‘We have four years left, and I want to talk now. Before rates go up.'”

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