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Joe Henderson talks up Tampa’s rise in 2018

We begin our fond look back at the year 2018 in Tampa with the story of Zsa Zsa the parrot.

I think you’ll agree that nothing summed up this year better than when our fine feathered fowl wasn’t ready for her closeup.

In the days leading to the National Football League draft, the Buccaneers took gimmickry to the next level by announcing that a Catalina Macaw from the Florida Exotic Bird Sanctuary would deliver the name of the team’s fourth-round selection from the pirate ship at Raymond James Stadium.

Twitter erupted as America got ready to go ga-ga for Zsa Zsa, and that’s when things got a little crazy. The story was oversold. The bird was never actually going to croak out, “mmwwa Jordan Whitehead, safety, Pitt, gimme a cracker.”

The idea was to have the parrot clutch a card with the name of the draftee and deliver it to an announcer, and that happened.

Alas, the bird did not say, as was planned, “Go Bucs” and scorn followed. If there was ever a metaphor for the upcoming Buccaneers season, there you had it – although Fitzmagic was fun for the whole two games it lasted.

By the way, Whitehead has been a good player, so there is that.

But we did a few things right as 2018 brought its measure of triumph for the city we call home. That city, by the way, is changing rapidly. Been downtown lately?

Jeff Vinik’s $3 billion Water Street Tampa project is on the way to becoming something his Tampa Bay Lightning hockey team can boast about. It was a big deal when Vinik’s group spent $13 million for the site where the ConAgra flour mill currently stands.

That allows for further expansion of Water Street and helps find a new home for a venerable business that looked seriously out of place as the former Channel District evolved. ConAgra will end up at a more appropriate location and Water Street rocks on.

The rebuilt Julian Lane Park opened in May and it is simply a fabulous addition to the downtown area. Along with Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park and Water Works Park, 2018 will be the year when Tampa made full and proper use of the Hillsborough River banks.

MORE YEAR IN REVIEW: J-Lo, A-Rod and Monica Lewinsky highlighted Tampa’s 2018 social scene

We saw the full impact that Riverwalk has on the downtown makeover. You’ve heard, no doubt, about the famed San Antonio Riverwalk. No offense to our Texas friends, but c’mon.

The Texas version winds around a little trickling bit of water that could charitably be called a stream. Tampa’s version is the real thing. The American Planning Association called it one of the “great spaces in America.”

Business was booming too.

The giant Fortune 500 company Mosaic announced it will move its corporate headquarters from Minnesota to Tampa.

There were unconfirmed reports that Mayor Bob Buckhorn was turning cartwheels along Franklin Street at the news, since convincing companies like that to move here has been a priority.

In early December, thousands of people waited hours on the phone, online, or standing in line to score tickets to the musical Hamilton, which begins its run at the David A. Straz, Jr. Center for the Performing Arts in February.

It’s also impossible to keep up with all the honors being showered on Tampa International Airport. This year, it bagged a biggie. It was the only airport in North America honored for customer service by Airports Council International.

Of course, Tampa has its problems that go far beyond mute parrots. Like any big city, we have our measure of sad headlines and depressing news. They have all been well-discussed throughout the year and will continue to be.

But people keep moving here and Tampa keeps evolving, getting closer to the kind of city we always knew it could be. We don’t need a talking parrot to spread that news.

Contact Joe Henderson at [email protected]

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