Tampa celebrates 120th birthday with time capsule

07/16/07 Seán Kinane
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Yesterday was the 120th anniversary of the incorporation of the City of Tampa. To celebrate the occasion, Mayor Pam Iorio and local community leaders met this afternoon in Lykes Gaslight Square Park in downtown Tampa to submit items into a time capsule.

Under a sweltering sun, the Dixieland Jazz Legends entertained the crowd before items were presented to the mayor for inclusion in the time capsule. Newspapers, books, letters and DVDs were among the most common items submitted.

The time capsule will be opened in 30 years by Tampa’s mayor during the city’s 150th birthday celebration in 2037.

Master of Ceremonies Jack Harris recapped some of what happened during the city’s first 120 years.

“The Village of Tampa was founded in 1849, but the City of Tampa officially incorporated on July 15, 1887, and it’s that milestone, obviously, that we’re celebrating today. From the birthplace of The Twist, it was here, to Billy Graham’s evangelistic start, right here on Franklin Street, down Franklin Street, or the site where the longest home run, 587 feet, was hit by Babe Ruth, during the Red Sox versus the New York Giants exhibition game in 1919 way over in Plant Park, Tampa is filled with a rich history and many fascinating stories.”

Harris also speculated, tongue firmly in cheek, about some news headlines that Tampa residents might read in July 2037 when the time capsule is opened.

“The president announced last night the formation of a committee to build her presidential library once she has completed her 2nd term in 2041. President Iorio said she would like to have it built in Tampa, Florida, her hometown, somewhere along where the Hillsborough River once ran. T-Bart, the Tampa Bay Rapid Transit system today announced they were building a new line to run from New North Tampa Annex to downtown Ocala, a distance of five miles. Officials of Tampa Bay Water said over the weekend they fully expected the desalination plant to be up and running before the end of the month.”

The City’s first official Poet Laureate, James E. Tokley Sr. read a poem that he included in the time capsule, called “Tampa 2037.” Part of the poem had to do with the effects on Tampa of global climate change, including a catastrophic rise in sea levels.

“When Arctic mountains warm and fall Will the Hillsborough finally come to call And claim what dry land lies between Itself and the bay, which was once serene? Will the RiverWalk where we once strolled By the riverside be swallowed whole Or years to come will divers run Down Bayshore Boulevard with Aqualungs?”

But Tokely closed his poem with hope for the future. He predicted a city that, while partially drowned by rising sea levels, had replaced a combat training facility with a homeless shelter, and had excellent rapid transit.

“What’s left of what was once MacDill That remains above the waterline still Has been transformed and now is known As a home for them who have no home. An art museum made of glass And steel stands jewel-like and world-class And finally, folks Orlando-bound Can catch a train leaving from downtown.”

WMNF asked Tokely, whether he intended his poem to be both a warning and a call to action.

“When one looks into a crystal ball, that’s an opportunity to really see, you know, not so much to take it as a gag. But to let people know that, as I said in the poem, ‘the future is what we make.’ So we have time to get out ecological, political, and philosophical selves right. When I talked about mending history, I was talking about taking responsibilities about the things that have happened in the past, so that we create a better future. And all of that was part of that. The ecology and all of that was part of that.”

Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio agreed with Tokley that global climate change is a serious issue that Tampa must proactively address. She said that implementation of a regional mass transit system could go a long way toward lowering the city’s carbon dioxide emissions.

“We certainly need to have a lot of national leadership on that issue. We saw just last week where our governor is leading on that issue with reduced emissions. Here in the City of Tampa we are taking steps; we have a Green City staff level where we’re looking how we can make our city greener. We’re even beginning to buy hybrid cars. But, really, if you want to talk about making a difference, mass transit makes a big difference because you reduce the reliance on the automobile. And I think that’s so very important for our future.”

The local bus service, HART, is facing budget and service cuts because of the state Legislature’s mandated cuts to property tax revenue. Mayor Iorio said that funding for regional mass transit will eventually be decided by voters, and might be used to fund a plan similar to the one unveiled last Friday by a six-county Regional Transit Workgroup, that consists of rail, high-speed buses and water ferries.

“Well, once we develop a plan, a real plan that has numbers attached to it, technology attached to it, then I think we take a referendum to the voters. General timetable on that is I think about 2010.”

Mayor Iorio is optimistic about the future of Tampa in 2037.

“Well, I hope the city has built upon many of the initiatives of the past several decades to be even better than it is today. Primarily I hope we have a great mass transit system. We need a regional system of bus and rail circulators. We owe it to the future to build a mass transit system, our population is going to continue to grow and grow. We also want to leave the next generation the RiverWalk, and new Tampa Museum of Art, the new Childrens’ Museum, the new Tampa Bay History Center. Connect all those wonderful amenities by a RiverWalk, have our downtown be a vibrant place where people can walk.”

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