I am a fifth generation Tampa native. I am deeply rooted here, but there were times when my roots had grown thin and weak.
I graduated from the University of South Florida in 2009 desperate for all that Tampa was lacking. I longed for a place thriving with passion, energy and creativity. The emotional and economic struggle of seeking opportunity and inspiration in a city where vacant historic landmarks sat hollow and deteriorating overshadowed by soulless concrete monstrosities failing to thrive had become unbearable.
While all the hip, young single graduates seemed to be flocking toward cities with a reputation for realizing dreams and promises, the optimists chose to stay behind and repair Tampa’s reputation for night clubs and snow birds. I sat on the fence, teetering between the loosening ties to my heritage and a new place to plant my roots.
I was on the brink of bidding my home farewell when Oxford Exchange offered a beacon of hope. While many expressed desire for Downtown Tampa’s renaissance, the visionaries behind Oxford Exchange — the ultimate optimists — had the means to set the standard. They opened their doors in 2012 with a single critical mission: to create a gathering place.
Oxford Exchange is not merely a place to shop and eat; it’s a place to explore and connect. The sights and scents and spirit of the place beg you to linger. The thoughtfulness and authenticity behind every detail within the space is evident and the story of it’s conception is an essential part of the experience.
Oxford Exchange restored my pride in my home. Oxford Exchange gave me something to brag about. And Oxford Exchange stands in good company.
In 2014 Le Meridian restored Downtown’s majestic marble courthouse in into a bar, bistro and boutique hotel. In the same year, the Ulele restaurant breathed new life into the old Tampa Waterworks building, retelling a local Native American legend. The creative community in Seminole Heights is flourishing with cutting edge chefs, artists and makers. Our craft coffee, beer and foodie scene is booming. Historic Franklin Avenue is beginning to buzz again. Jeff Vinik is revitalizing the Channel District. Tampa is drawing a wealth of talent and unearthing a rich history that has been ignored for too long, and our pride is swelling as our past and our future begin to merge in harmony.
While we still have a long way to go, the light is beginning to shine on Tampa because we’ve finally discovered that we have stories worth sharing. The list of great Tampa landmarks, new and old are growing and it is imperative that we fill the spaces in between with businesses and residences that evoke us. People of Tampa don’t need merely somewhere to live and something so do, but something to feel.
We must preserve and revive what we have, and raise the bar for what’s to come.
I could’ve walked away from Tampa for a bigger, better metro, but I stayed because I believed in our potential. I saw a flame that could be rekindled. I saw a glimmer of something left for my roots to cling to if only I was patient enough to give it a chance.
My roots have latched on and I have big dreams for this little city of mine. I know there are others who share my vision and enthusiasm for Tampa’s future. One where more people are walking, instead of driving; where small businesses are thriving instead of fighting; where people are really living, instead of merely residing.
Living and working in downtown, I’ve begun to see this vision take shape. Tampa is finally realizing it’s potential. It certainly won’t be the next New York, Boston or Seattle. But that’s okay, because we are Tampa. We have our own character and community worth building upon. And for that, I’m happy I stayed.
Thank you, and Happy 3rd Birthday, to Oxford Exchange.