Artful Bricks

What I liked about “The Art of the Brick” in downtown Tampa transcends obvious creativity, ingenuity and whimsy. It is its broad appeal. Amid the 100 pieces of art made of Lego bricks by artist Nathan Sawaya there’s literally something for everybody–whether it’s an homage to the Mona Lisa, David and The Thinker, a shout out to Manet, Monet and Van Gogh or an ultra cool, 20-foot Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton. Or maybe, it’s just the interactive build space at the end, which is a fun, creative place for young–and much older–kids to build their own Lego projects.  The Vinik Family Foundation, which sponsors the exhibit, covers the cost, which means free entry for all visitors. To date, there have been more than 100,000 since late June.

Not unlike last year’s Vinik-sponsored “Beach Tampa” exhibit at Amalie Arena–or the Children’s Gasparilla Parade–“The Art of the Brick” looks like Tampa racially and ethnically. At a time when we need venues and opportunities to come together as a community, the Vinik Foundation has stepped up–again–in a meaningful way.

St. Pete In The News

Two quick takeaways from what’s been happening in St. Petersburg.

* Mayor Rick Kriseman is behind former Mayor Rick Baker and needs a game changer while praying for the dodged bullet of a major storm. The Tampa Bay Times even recommended Baker. Ouch. Rick K’s best bet: Passionately play the Democratic Party card, even though this is technically (wink-nod) nonpartisan. Remind communities of impact and influence, notably gay and African-American, that you’ve always been on their side–and you’re not averse to condemning Trump values that too many Republicans have had to rhetorically tap dance around. Note the slippery style of Baker.

Remind them that you actually march in the Pride Parade; you don’t do a GOPster tap dance. Keep recycling that reminder in a multi-media appeal. And why not get your African-American Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin into Midtown to remind the black community that you can be trusted to do the right thing. Tomalin, a native of St. Pete (Boca Ciega High) is a player–not a token–and she could make a turn-out difference by extending Kriseman’s electoral reach.

* Too bad that Black Lives Matter can’t go beyond its cop-killing niche of black lives selectively mattering and use its forum to help rein in the car-theft crime wave that too often involves black teens. Seemingly consequence-free “joyriding” has turned deadly for the teen thieves and imperiled the innocent.

Atlanta Reference

Chris Steinocher, CEO of the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce, waxed bullish and blunt the other day about St. Pete. He also made a candid comparison with his birthplace city, Atlanta.

On the former: “St. Pete is a hot property, and we do not want to screw it up.” On the latter: “They screwed it up.” He meant, most notably, sprawl and traffic.

As someone who previously lived in the Atlanta area, I can attest to some other things. The city, which has long marketed itself as the “New South,” “the city that’s too busy to hate” and home to America’s most viable black middle class, has issues beyond insufferable gridlock. Put it this way, there’s a reason Atlanta notoriously cooks the books on crime and school testing.

And it’s hardly happenstance that the Atlanta Braves new stadium, Sun Trust Park, is in the suburbs–and not a synergistic part of the urban core.

“They Don’t Know”

Here’s a quote I still can’t reconcile. It comes from Julie Weintraub, who does good work running the Hands Across Tampa Bay non-profit that goes to schools and helps address teen dating violence. She talks to both the girls and the guys. “Beating her, punching her, kicking her or shooting her should never be an option after a break up or because they turn down your sexual advances,” says Weintraub. “We have to say that, because they don’t know.”

We’ve all been teens. We’ve all experienced the hormonal rushes and dynamics of dating–from first kiss to final rejection. It’s a parallel psychological universe. But no one ever had to actually lay it out that you couldn’t beat up or shoot somebody you were involved with or wanted to be involved with. Of course, you couldn’t! It’s not what civilized primates do. As a society, have we devolved that much–such that “they don’t know”?

Water Works

We have a winner. And it’s obviously not “Vinikville.”

After more than two years of working on developmental details around Amalie Arena, Jeff Vinik and partners no longer have to work around the lack of an official name for their imposing, $3 billion, 50-plus-acre revitalization project. It’s officially “Water Street Tampa.”

Personally, I liked the working appellation of “Waterfront District,” although I would concede it had its generic downside. Then there was “Channelside,” which had already been taken. And then “LoDo,” (for Lower Downtown,) a cute riff on SoHo, but not to be taken seriously.

“Water Street Tampa” works. It connotes what needs to be connoted when you are near water. It also has the cachet of history. There actually is a Water Street, and it dates back to the 1800s. Now it will become the “main spine” of the new neighborhood, according to James Nozar, the CEO of Strategic Properties Partners, the real estate firm backed by Vinik in tandem with Bill Gates’ Cascade Investment.

Not to rain on the Water Street parade, but I do detect an ample measure of marketing hyperbole. It’s understandable that what Vinik & Co. want to do is evoke the sort of connection we have long seen between certain iconic streets and their famous host cities. So why not think big? Indeed. As in Bourbon Street, Michigan Avenue and Broadway. Some day.

Cuban Connection

When it comes to Cuba, nothing is assumed. It can still be a sovereign square peg for certain American officials with allegiance issues. To wit: Tampa. Still.

Recently the Cuban ambassador to the U.S. issued an invitation to Tampa City Council to visit as a delegation. José Ramón Cabañas Rodríguez specifically mentioned issues of mutual interest, including drug interdiction, illegal immigration, marine biology and tourism.

It just makes sense. We’re neighbors with a lot in common–from heritage to trade to security. But this is Cuba, and this is Tampa. And what makes good sense, especially of the self-serving sort for Tampa, is still not a good enough rationale for all concerned principals.

So, some council members will be going–but they won’t actually represent the city, the one that is a historic soul mate of Havana. Just the council. Only the mayor can officially represent the city, and Bob Buckhorn, as we know, would sooner visit Trump Tower than Raúl’s realm. As long as the embargo remains, as long as human rights, however cherry-picked, remains an issue. Yada, yada. Otra vez, otra vez.

“It’s not about helping Cuba, it’s about helping us,” underscored City Council Chairwoman Yolie Capín.

Ay, Dios. Dick Greco, please call your old office.

County Challenge

As we know, Mayor Bob Buckhorn doesn’t always see eye to eye with the county. The fact that it has exercised a de facto veto over Tampa-friendly, transit referenda speaks for itself. But when the County Commission voted to leave that Confederate monument outside the old County Courthouse, the mayor pulled no rhetorical punches. “There is no honor in treason, and there is no valor in enslaving people because of their race,” he declared. “That statue represents the worst of humanity, not the Tampa that we aspire to be.”

To Buckhorn, this had to be the equivalent of spiking the football. This is a gut issue, and it’s his back yard. The world, he fears, won’t view this as a controversial Hillsborough County monument, but as a monumental black eye on the image of Tampa.

Testing Our Resolve

It’s progress, and we’ll take it. But we still need to recognize context.

Several local struggling schools showed encouraging improvement on state examinations. But there was also this: In language arts, just 6 percent of fifth-graders at Tampa’s B.T. Washington Elementary tested at their grade level, while at Potter Elementary it was 10 percent among fourth-graders.

The reasons are myriad, as we know all too well. But this is 2017–not 1954. Sobering.