The Rooftop City

If you try to be all things to all people, you will end up being nothing to anyone. While grammatically questionable, the message is dead on. If you think of successful brands, they don’t try to appeal to everyone in the world, yet they have world-wide success. A city is no different. In fact, if you look at every city of influence you’ll discover that they are each typically known for one powerful concept:

Tampa Urban Gondolas
Make sure to read Part II of this blog that creates an innovative solution to transportation

Detroit: The Motor City
Los Angeles: Home of Hollywood
Nashville: Country music epicenter
Philadelphia: The City of Brotherly Love
Washington DC: The nation’s capital
Las Vegas: Sin City

In Florida, all of our most influential cities have an identity that they are known for:

Orlando: DisneyWorld
Daytona: Nascar
St. Petersburg: The City of Artists
Clearwater: The Country’s Best Beaches
Tallahassee: Our State’s Capital
Miami: Spring Break Capital of the World

Tampa: ???

I’ve asked countless city leaders, “What is our identity?” And it is most commonly answered with, “That’s a good question; I’m not sure.” Our most influential leaders in Tampa realize this challenge. And many have suggested ways for us to create a powerful identity or reputation. Here are some of the current ideas floating around that people are pushing for:

The East Coast’s Silicon Valley

Economically, if we could pull this off, it would be incredible. It’s also an incredibly crowded space filled with other cities which are already decades ahead of us and for us to overtake them would take such a huge investment that the reward to risk ratio would make the most liberal of investors think twice.

Not to mention, it’s unappealing and uninspiring for anyone other than startup companies.

The Tourism Capital of the America

As much as I love the concept of having people from out of town fund our entire city through visitor taxes on hotels and rental cars, we would have to work extremely hard to overtake our neighbor to the east, Orlando. Yes, we will always want to have tourism be a major role in Tampa, but we would actually be better off helping to reinforce Orlando as tourism central, because the more people visit there, the more those same people will also want to visit here. Let Orlando spend their dollars on marketing their city to the world, and we can save our money for creating a better identity that is so unique that people who are visiting from Orlando will naturally want to drive over to see what all the talk is about. What is that identity? Keep Reading. We’ll get there. But first, let’s address what makes up a powerful brand identity in the first place.

How do You Create an Identity?

Creating a successful identity is what happens when a mass of people have formed memories, emotions, and a relationship around a company; or in this case, a city. The goal with any city, in the context of becoming identifiable, is to build such a strong connection and such a strong belief that the citizens take on the city’s identity as their own. They use this reputation to help define who they are as a person.

Some of the most relevant examples of this currently are Portland and Austin. Portland’s unofficial motto has become, “Keep Portland Weird”, and the citizens of Portland boast about how eccentric they are. It’s a status symbol for them if you think they’re not normal. And it’s working. They are attracting millennials by droves– individuals who don’t feel like they fit into the “system” of an average city.

Austin has become known as the liberal refuge for Texans. In a state with a substantial conservative population, Austin has boldly owned their liberal views, and if you live in Austin, you are most likely a proud liberal who doesn’t consider themselves a part of traditional Texas, but their own private oasis in a state of hard-right Republicans.

Author Peter Kageyama explains in his book, For the Love of Cities, “… there’s no better way to market a city than to brand it from the inside out, and have the people who live there and who are from there be the ultimate ambassadors of the city.”

In Tampa, Jeff Vinik, the brain behind the upcoming Water Street district latched on to this when he created a crowdsourcing website for the citizens of Tampa. We could log in and vote as to what type of shops, venues, and parks we would like to see in the districts. By doing this, he’s building a part of Tampa for which the citizens have a say in the mission. Why aren’t we doing this with the rest of the city?

By the way, Water Street is already moving boldly forward with the rooftop concept. Every rooftop in Water Street will have some sort of rooftop experience – including the retrofitting of rooftop experiences on existing structures. Here’s a conceptual drawing of what Vinik is already in the works to create:

The Rooftop City
Waterstreet is already embracing the concept of rooftop experiences

And here’s a conceptual video showing how Water Street will have more green space than any district of it’s size:

Rooftop City
Click to watch a short video highlighting the vision of Water Street and it’s rooftop experience

To borrow a term from the former Mayor of St. Pete, we need to create a “seamlessness” between Water Street and Downtown Tampa. If we don’t, we are at risk of creating a city divided by the “haves” and “have nots”.

This begins by getting the citizens involved in how they would like to see the city evolve. Because once they own the creation, they will promote it. And to get them to create, they must first fall in love. As Peter points out, when you can create an emotional connection between the city and the people, you create a population of people who no longer merely consume the city, but in fact, create the city.

What is a brand worth?

Can having a brand identity actually make a city more valuable? According to Priceonomics, the value of the Mickey Mouse icon is worth an estimated $5.8 billion per year, and the cities of Orlando and Anaheim have done an excellent job of profiting from this. From the Orlando and Santa Ana International Airports to Publix grocery stores around the city, everyone in central Florida and California’s Orange County is capitalizing on this phenomenon.

Our Identity is Right Above our Noses

While my inspiration for our city’s future identity was sparked by our downtown, I would love for it to go citywide, even across the bay and complement our entire region. But let’s start at the most obvious place to begin: Downtown.

Because of our unique geography, and size of city, our downtown core has something that no other city in America can claim: The majority of the buildings, not just the high-rises, but even the mid-rise and low-rise buildings, have multi-million dollar views in at least one direction. They enjoy either the skyline of the University of Tampa, rated one of the top ten most beautiful campuses in the world. They may have a view of our beautiful bay. And some have a view of our industrial looking port, which to urban dwellers is a piece of living art. Sadly, the only people who get to enjoy these rooftop views are the HVAC repairmen who get up there to service the air conditioning units. Multi-million dollar views and nobody gets to see them? That doesn’t make sense.

I see this as a wonderful opportunity in the making. We could create an identity for this city that would make the world take notice. We could become–

The Rooftop City

By incentivizing our property owners with a tax break to significantly offset the cost of a retro fit, we could create epic, sweeping views of our city that locals and tourists alike would want to experience. Rooftop bars, parks, chill-lounges, urban gardens, even rooftop dog parks could serve as capstones to our skyline creating something truly unique and iconic. Could you imagine going to the roof of the Sykes building after work to watch the sunset and answer some emails on your laptop? this would be an identity that no other city could boast, and we would be the first to own it, not the next to copy it.

Why could this work?

Human beings have an anthropological desire to get up high and experience sweeping, panoramic views. This desire is subconscious, and it’s undeniable. If you give someone the opportunity to go to the rooftop of a building, 99 times out of 100 they will accept. So by having rooftop bars, etc., we would become a city that is irresistibly attractive to anyone. And furthermore, our proof of concept is already in place.

What are four of the most popular bars in the Tampa Bay area right now?

  1. Fly Bar in downtown Tampa
  2. The Élevage in Hyde Park
  3. Bulla in SoHo
  4. The Canopy in downtown St. Pete

I’m not endorsing any of these bars, I’m just stating a fact about their popularity. Why are they popular? Because they all have rooftop bars. And the more we have, the more popular they become. Like a Starbucks coffee, the more frequently you come across one, the more conditioned you are to want to patron one.

Is this even possible?

There are some very valid reasons why some may think it impossible to make this happen. But remember, many great things were often thought impossible until they were achieved. Here are some of the hurdles we may face, and some possible solutions to overcome them:

“This is Tampa! It’s too hot for rooftop bars! Nobody would go.”

Interestingly enough, countless studies have been made to track the behavior of people in a walkable city, and they have discovered that weather rarely becomes a factor in someone’s decision to walk outside. Case in point, the most walkable city in North America is currently Toronto Canada! A city that is under snow 4 months of the year. Yes, Tampa is a bit unbearable at times during July and August. But those are two incredibly popular beach months as well. We could safely predict that locals’ attendance will decline during the summer months, but tourism would likely increase for the rooftop bars as tourists are always looking for the ultimate vacation picture.

But here’s another thought: Who says a rooftop experience has to be outdoors? The Tampa Club is a private club on the top of the Bank of America building and it is one of the most enjoyable rooftop experiences we have. Right next door is the University Club on the top floor of the PNC Building. The only problem with these is that they can only be enjoyed by the elite who can afford membership. I want all of our residents in Tampa, regardless of their income, to be able to experience these awe-inspiring views.

Before After Tampa Museum
Imagine Curtis Hixon Park extending onto the rooftop of the Tampa Museum of Arts. The viewing space and photo ops would be a local and tourism favorite
“The tenants and residents would never want to share their elevators with visitors all day long!”

Yep, this is true. It’s even more of a challenge when you consider that elevators don’t go to the top floor so the cost of extending the elevator to the rooftop would most likely make it cost-prohibitive. And making the patrons walk up a staircase to get there from the top floor would be out of compliance with ADA regulations. The solution to these two challenges has nothing to do with the current elevators. The solution is to build external elevators that can be attached to the buildings. And I know how ludicrous that sounds. After all, they don’t even exist. Stick with me. You’ll see this is a blessing that will help Tampa to become one of the most innovative cities in the world.

Peter Diamandis, the creator of the X Prize, has discovered an entirely new way to spark innovation. I won’t bore you with the details here, but if you want to look into it further, just Google X Prize benefits and you can learn all you want to about it. Prize-based innovation can single-handedly invent the technology to create external elevators, and do so for a pre-determined budget that would be far below what it would cost to hire engineers to create the solution, and it would attract the youngest, brightest minds in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math to our city. Why? Because we could create a prize-based incentive to the universities around the world to invent an external elevator that can be attached to any shape, height, and building material. The great thing about prize-based innovation is that the person holding the prize gets to determine the parameters of what is necessary to win it. So we are limited only by our imagination of how over-the-top we want the elevators to be. By offering this invention as a prize, and opening it up to universities throughout the world, 2 things will happen.

#1. The universities’ alumni fund the R&D, where we only have to pay for it once we have an invention that works.

#2 In order for them to complete their mission, they would have to visit our city for their R&D.

Here’s where it gets really exciting. What’s the best way to get someone to move to Tampa? Have them visit Tampa. If we had the brightest minds from universities all over the world visiting Tampa, we would simultaneously be recruiting a portion of them to live here by giving them an experience they’ve never known before. If you want a truly innovative city, then get the most innovative minds to move here.

While just a concept, the other side of this building has a much better opportunity for a rooftop bar, garden, or chill lounge
“The liability would be too high, nobody would want a rooftop bar because of the potential risks involved.”

Then how do we already have rooftop bars? While the objection does reflect a problem in our society, if anything, it creates the motivation to solve the problem, not live with it. The moment a creative mind is in fear of consequence, it stifles their creativity. Our litigious society has created a fear among entrepreneurs who would otherwise love to create a truly unique experience for their customers, but don’t because they are afraid of frivolous lawsuits. This is the problem, not the rooftop experience. Let’s be the city that creates liability protection laws for business owners to protect them against frivolous lawsuits. This will do 2 things: #1 It will spark innovation and get our culture to start taking calculated risks again – that’s what made this country great in the first place. #2 It would make business owners want to move to Tampa because it would become more entrepreneur-friendly than any other city in the world.

“We live in a city that has hurricanes! You can’t put a rooftop bar on a building, people will blow off.”

During a hurricane everything shuts down, including the inside of the buildings. Residential buildings shut down their outdoor pools and patios, hotels with rooftop bars lock the access doors, and there’s no reason to think the other establishments with rooftop experiences wouldn’t do the same.

“It would be too expensive to move the AC units off the rooftops and put them underground.”

Who said anything about moving them? In some cases, that might be the best solution, but for others, the common sense alternative would be to build on top of them, have a noise dampening floor beneath, in between the AC units and the guests, and simply extend the building one more floor up by extending off of the pre-existing load bearing walls. And yes, some of the AC units might be mounted on top of them. Then, you might need to move them a few feet. It’s a nominal expense. As long as the support structure covering the AC units has ample height above the units and open sides for wind to pass through, it won’t affect the function, and in fact, might actually preserve the life of the AC units as they would be out of exposure from some of the more harsh elements like incessant rain or sun.

“Good luck getting the owners of the buildings to agree to putting rooftop experiences on their buildings.”

Yep, it might take some luck, but even more than luck it will simply take competition. A simple city ordinance mandating that all new buildings require rooftop experiences of a pre-determined criteria, and very soon the existing buildings will realize that in order to stay relevant and demand top dollar for their clients, they need to remain competitive. The market will determine the demand. It always has, and it always will.

“Not every building has a view or has the structure to hold large groups of people.”

Understood. And a valid point. “Rooftop experience” could entail things other than retail establishments. Urban gardens for ‘rooftop to table’ dining, solar energy panels, aerial art experiences that can only be seen from the sky. These are all possible solutions to buildings that otherwise might not benefit from a rooftop bar or chill lounge. One of the most exciting of these opportunities is the rooftop art which will make the sky lifts more enjoyable. (Keep reading, I’ll explain that in a moment)

The rooftop city doesn’t have to, nor should it end at the walls of downtown. This concept can be taken to North, East, and West Tampa to increase the quality of life for residents in those neighborhoods. It also doesn’t have to end with commercial rooftops. I would propose a tax break for anyone wanting to retro-fit their homes with solar panels so our city can become less dependent on oil, and utilize the limitless supply of the sun. We are the sunshine state after all. Let’s use the sunshine!

To some, these obstacles make this goal seem impossible. All of these obstacles to creating the rooftop city are just that. Obstacles. And any worthy goal is paved with plenty of things that knock you off course and slow you down. The greater the goal, the more challenges you will face. This is why a small business owner for Mayor can make it happen. Because obstacles are a part of daily life for the small business owner. The question isn’t “how do we do it?” Or “Can we afford it?” The question is, “Is it worth it?” And if that answer is yes, then we find the talent to answer the how, and we create the incentives to create the funding.

C’mon Tampa, let’s do the impossible!

Want to Learn More?

Tampa Urban Gondolas
Make sure to read Part II of this blog that creates an innovative solution to transportation

Check out my blog on how we can solve a major portion of our transportation issues in Tampa!







Photo Credits: Felix Mizioznikov Photography

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Larry Chapman
Larry Chapman
July 17, 2018 3:11 pm

I am the Asset Manager for Rivergate Tower. I saw the rendering of my building with the rooftop bar. I loved the idea. We have spent $ millions reposition the building to attract Millennial employers. Our marketing tag line is “Evolve Beyond the Box”. While the concept you envision for rooftop bars is to be applauded, as Mayor do you believe you will have the ability to rewrite building codes for the city, county and state and get insurance companies to go along with it? Another minor problem that will cost hundreds of thousands of $’s, do you see elevators… Read more »

Topher Morrison
Topher Morrison
July 24, 2018 2:45 pm
Reply to  Larry Chapman

Hi Larry! Thank you so much for your support, I’d love to sit down with you and buy you a cup of coffee and answer all of your questions! Give me a call 813-857-8638