TAMPA — Scott Strain grabbed the mallet and hoped for the best. With one hard swing, a beams of lights ascended from the bottom to the top floor — 33 stories — of the Rivergate Tower, the downtown building fondly known as the beer can building.
“I didn’t think I hit it hard enough, said Strain, 40, of Tampa, who attended Lights on Tampa on Friday night with his wife and two daughters, ages 3 and 6. “It was exciting to see the lights go up. The kids get happy.”
Happiness seemed to go hand in hand with the light-themed celebration at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park downtown. Lights on Tampa featured a number of visually spectacular exhibits and effects throughout the park, at nearby buildings and in the Hillsborough River.
“Absolutely blown away,” said Srain’s wife, Verla. “It’s amazing. Everyone is out here experiencing this together.”
Lights on Tampa debuted in 2006. This year it will get a permanent piece, the environmentally-themed Riverglow. Created by Wannemacher Jensen Architects of St. Petersburg, the display has different colored lights rising from beneath the surface of the Hillsborough River.
Besides the light displays, Lights on Tampa proved to be a festive event. A band marched along with costumed dancers to start the celebration. The crowd swayed in the cool evening to a mix of music, including Latin, rock and dance beats. The stage featured large screens; when people danced behind the screens, they appeared like giant shadows to the observing crowd.
Gloria Devia attended Lights on Tampa with her friends, Bronia Svitacova and her husband, Vipul Kumar, of Tampa.
“It was nice coming here tonight,” said Devia, 58. “It felt like a mini New York City.”
Mayor Bob Buckhorn said the event is a celebration of the city and its residents and shows off Tampa to those who live here or are just visiting.
“The Lights on Tampa display is showcasing everything we’ve been working to do,” Buckhorn said. “These types of events are what make us cool.”
“There is more happening in downtown Tampa than has happened in two decades.”
Didn’t go to Lights on Tampa on Friday night? Don’t worry; the free event continues from 6:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park.