Tampa Bay thoughts?
July 18, 2006 12:28 PM   Subscribe

I'm thinking about a move to the Tampa Bay area (possibly to set up shop and raise the family)....Can any Mefites familiar to the area or living there tell me stuff about schools, crime, culture in the area...? Of course, assorted pros/cons would be great.

(I searched for posts regarding the topic and it seems Tampa comes off ok versus some serious bashing over Northern Florida Southern conservatism and South Florida materialism), still nothing specific about the Gulf Coast really. From what I know, people are friendly and the area seems well planned, laid out.....The millions of strip clubs I hope is a tourist thing....
Basically, I'm a Northeastern professional type, who has decent job prospects up here, but when I tell acquaintances I want to move to Florida they look at me with a look of: That's the place you buy your vacation home, right? At any rate, input regarding the area would be appreciated.
posted by skepticallypleased to Travel & Transportation around Tampa, FL (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I lived in Florida for 5 years; family still lives there. Did the high school thing in Pinellas County- like most parts of the country, the individual schools vary in quality based on the neighborhood. St. Petersburg has a decent cultural life going on, although it has areas that are more crime ridden than others.

And yes, there are a lot of strip clubs- they're everywhere. My theory is they're there for all the old people who never got into internet porn.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:50 PM on July 18, 2006 [1 favorite]

I went to high school in Tampa. I've been living in New England and California for the past 9 years, but I go back to Tampa several times a year to visit my parents.

Well, when I lived there 9 years ago, I really liked the place, especially since I hate cold weather. But, nowadays the place seems rather boring. For instance, it's very hard to find a movie theater that shows anything other than the latest popcorn flick, or a good concert in a genre that is not hugely popular, or an unusual restaurant (say, Ethiopian). Another thing is that you have to drive everywhere. There are practically no sidewalks anywhere in the city (except downtown). Also, I'm always taken aback by all the SUV's with "We support our troops" stickers and all the old people who really should have stopped driving about 20 years ago.

But, there are good things about the area too. I already mentioned the weather - for about eight months out of the year it's gorgeous. If you're into going to the beach, there are good beaches within easy reach. If you're into going to bars and clubbing, there's a lot of that. There are lots of theme parks in the area. They also have restaurants that are open 24 hours a day, which is something that I've really missed living in other places. The cultural isn't all bad either. For instance, St. Pete has an amazing Dali museum. (I think it has more Dali paintings than any other place in the world.) Finally, housing prices are very reasonable, though they've been going up in recent years.

You're right about the people being friendly and about the place being well laid out; makes it much easier to find your way around. I can't say much about the schools, except that there are several really excellent private ones (probably some of the best in the country).
posted by epimorph at 1:27 PM on July 18, 2006

I grew up in Miami and was delighted to escape Florida half a decade ago. That said, if someone put a gun to my head and demanded I move back to Florida I think Tampa/StPete would be the top of my list. (Okay, Key West would be top but no way could I afford it)

Epimorph is right about the Dali museum, it's awesome When I visited in the late 80s they said it was the largest private collection in the world. The website doesn't say this so I wonder if it's no longer true or, more likely, damning with faint praise by using the 'private' qualifier.
posted by phearlez at 1:49 PM on July 18, 2006

As a former teacher in Fort Myers, about two hours south of Tampa, I can say with certainty that I would never in a million years send my kids to Florida schools. The FCAT testing and performance-based pay-- the whole educational system is sub par. It's also run by good-ol'-boys. I was raised on the north shore of Chicago, though, where 99% of people go to 4-year colleges and the school system is run by professionals. So your expectations might vary. But I doubt your expectations would be met with Florida public schools.

Also, there's a HUGE culture shock moving from northeast to down south. I also taught in Baltimore where women were equal to men and had valid opinions-- not so much down here. If Mrs. Skeptically pleased is intending to find a job, let her know that she very well may run into 70's kinds of mindsets. Don't even get me started.

And you're a professional-type? Eek. Maybe Tampa is better than Fort Myers-- probably is-- but you will be shocked at what people in Florida think is professionalism. I am considered a cold and heartless yankee because I don't make long conversations with people when they come in our office.

Caught me in a bad week-- sorry to be a Debbie Downer. Florida does have it's plusses-- like the months of November through April-- it's sheer heaven. But then the summer comes and it's hell, close to literally. Also, the wildlife is something to get used to. Don't daydream about building a treefort or rolling around in the grass with skepticallypleased, jr. Ants will bite you mercilessly. You will hit snakes with your lawnmower on a regular basis. If you live on a golf course you won't go for walks in the dark in the summer months or you might meet a hungry gator friend. It's a different mentality than the north, totally.

One epiphany I had recently: when I lived in the north my conversations were about things I did, shows I saw, museums I went to, etc., because that was the main feature of Chicago for me. Now that I live in the south, my conversations are about the weather, the storms, the amazing summer skies, the hurricanes, the heat, the beaches, because those are the features of this area.

All of that to say-- if weather is your top priority, move here. Otherwise, buy a vacation home here.

For more ranting, feel free to email me through my profile.
posted by orangemiles at 2:33 PM on July 18, 2006

when I tell acquaintances I want to move to Florida they look at me with a look of: That's the place you buy your vacation home, right?

What are your reasons, if any, for thinking about moving down here? Just looking for a change of scene, hoping for some less-punishing winters, you're really into boating/golfing/fishing?

I'm on the Gulf coast myself, north of orangemiles but still south of Tampa, so I can't give any advice on what it's like to live and work there, specifically. The area has its pros and cons, like anyplace, but it all depends on what you're looking for.

If you love wildlife, as I do, the critters on the loose down here would be a definite "pro" -- gators in every. single. body of water, wild pigs frolicking on the shoulder of I-75, bald eagles nesting in the nature parks, etc. There's still a lot of undeveloped land down here too, and if you wanted a quieter, less Big City lifestyle you could probably pretty easily get in on a new development within a short commute of whatever downtown stuff you're into. But, as orangemiles pointed out, the school system is lacking. And there's the hurricanes. (And, in my experience, the appalling lack of local resources for people whose lives were wrecked by the 2004 storms. Sure, there's a bunch of 'em in the phone book, but when the chips came down? "Sorry." [Still bitter? Me?])

The best jobs are in the bigger cities, Tampa, Sarasota, Fort Myers, but for me at least, the living itself is better in the slightly out-of-the-way spots where the old folks congregate and there's less crime, noise, and trash. Commuting isn't bad, though. I-75 takes me everywhere I want or need to be. But, as orangemiles also pointed out, the old folks can take some getting used to, as well, if you're not already predisposed to be very patient with them. And there's the heat. It's a dealbreaker for some people, for others it's no big.

There's no shortage of culture, fun stuff, nightlife, and plenty of history; somewhere on my hard drive I've got a photo of a little statue of a helmeted Spaniard holding a sign commemorating the "First White Man Killed In America." Read into that what thou wilt.
posted by Gator at 3:58 PM on July 18, 2006

I've lived in various parts of Pinellas County now for over 25 years. I'll type a more useful answer to this later, because I haven't gotten *off* the keyboard since I walked in the house, but yeah, it can be a pretty decent place to live, if you pick your spot, and can afford the real estate.

BTW: I have a house for sale in a nice neighborhood... ;-)
posted by baylink at 4:03 PM on July 18, 2006

The Tampa area has one of the biggest, and longest lasting, gothic/industrial/death metal scenes in the country. This has always intrigued me especially since it's so sunny there. Remember the Saturday Night Live skit "Goth Talk"? It was based on a real public access show in Tampa (and I believe the skit was said to be based in Tampa as well).

That could be a positive or a negative or just a mild amusement for you ... but I find it kind of fascinating.

I have plenty of friends who live there (I'm in central Florida) and they all love it. My friends tend to lean towards the 'artsy fartsy' side so there must be some culture in the area for them to enjoy being there so much.

I've been to a lot of good restaurants there and I'm a picky eater who prefers ethnic spots. There's a great Cuban influence on a lot of the food and architecture as well.

The comment above about retirees and old folks populating the city seems off base to me ... the population I always encounter there seems a lot younger than, say, the southern Floridian cities (Miami excepted).

A negative is that I find the area filled with highways, concrete, and strip malls ... but like anywhere you can find cool little neighborhoods devoid of these to haunt.

There's some interesting history to the area such as the events celebrated yearly for Guavaween and the Gasparilla Pirate Festival.

St. Petersburg Beach is probably my favorite beach in Florida and you'll be close to that. You'll also be hop, skip, and jump away from this.
posted by General Zubon at 4:07 PM on July 18, 2006

Whoops, it was epimorph who mentioned the old people. Sorry for the misattribution.
posted by Gator at 4:07 PM on July 18, 2006

Thanks so much for the posts....The impetus to me moving there would be, well, I guess sort of a demographic power to the region is that the folks are now there and it would be nice to let my kids be around a tri-generational environment.....Also, while we'd be away from the friends we've been fortunate enough to make in the recent past, I think when you start a family, that stuff becomes less important and you care more about your community and your kids.....

The scary thing is something like orangemiles was saying....the cultural and educaitonal climate of Florida seems a lot less egalitarian than I'd like and I've between the hurricanes, some crime it can really go against what I like about the area -- the pace, the natural beauty (and, what someone said in another AskMe thread, sunsets on the Beach.....)

It's sort of wierd making a decision like this one....do you raise your kids Floridian or as sub-burban New Yorkers? Is it just good to be around family as long as family is a tolerable and possibly very nice place? In one way, it would be nice to not raise them in an environment where WAY TOO MANY of my work associates start working on that big house in the great school district so that their kids can go to schools like they did...not to say that that's bad.
Its just a lot more one-dimensional than the environment I grew up in though.

And, yes, from what I've read there does some to be a thriving art scene (Chihuly gallery as well as the Dali), good local plays, and lots of restaurants.....Plus Orlando being so close is nice too.

I doubt I'd miss the Winters....
posted by skepticallypleased at 8:04 PM on July 18, 2006

For those of you chiding Florida for it's schools do you even have a clue? Do you realize that approximately 50% of the schools in the schools in the top High School lists each year are in Florida?

2004 is the newest I could find. from Newsweek
1 |  Jefferson County* |  Irondale |  Ala. |  10.755 |  2
2 |  International Academy*|Bloomfield Hills|Mich.|8.422 |0
3 |  Stanton College Prep* | Jacksonville |  Fla. |  7.385 |  7.8
4 |  Eastside*  |  Gainesville |  Fla. |  6.682 |  39
5 |  H-B Woodlawn |  Arlington |  Va. |  5.747 |  14
6 |  Science/Engineering Magnet |Dallas|Texas|5.545|37.8
7 |  Paxon*  |  Jacksonville |  Fla. |  5.373 |  13
8 |  Pensacola* |  Pensacola |  Fla. |  5.362 |  63
9 |  Raleigh Charter |  Raleigh |  N.C. |  5.089 |  0
10 |  Hillsborough* |  Tampa |  Fla. |  5.085 |  50

posted by nulledge at 1:30 PM on July 19, 2006

What's your point, nulledge? Only one of those schools is anywhere near Tampa Bay. Do I have a clue? Yes, I went to Florida public schools, and my father teaches at one.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:54 PM on July 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

Perhaps a better thing to caution the questioner about wouldn't be Florida schools but rather any Florida government programs and structures. Florida suffers from all the same weaknesses and problems any state government does, but additionally there's the factor that Florida has no state income tax.

While this is great from a payer standpoint it is achieved by Florida making money on sales taxes and it's the additional tourism inflow that makes it possible. This means that Florida is far more sensitive to the ebb and flow of the economy and tourism than most other states. I've always viewed "CSI: Miami" as a comedy because of the snazz they portray the cops as having. Hummer vehicles? Pretty neon? Hah!

The Florida school system reflects this up-and-down funding situation. As Null so delicately points out, this doesn't mean good schools can't be found. However I think you will find other statistics can be found showing that florida is in the bottom 40% of the country stats-wise. Florida's got a lot of variation across the state and the numbers are affected by the large immigrant latin population that needs ESOL instructions too, however, so those as well might need to be taken with a grain of salt.
posted by phearlez at 2:20 PM on July 19, 2006

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