Steve Otto Columns
Otto: 'Big Ugly' looms for downtown
Next week the Tampa City Council is scheduled to vote on a proposal to build a 36-story tower downtown on a one-acre patch of land between the John Germany Public Library and the Hillsborough River. The proposed tower, known affectionately as "The Big Ugly," will offer 350-plus apartments, a parking garage, and ground-level shopping and restaurants. The project has had more than its share of critics, including me. To their credit, the developers have offered a number of concessions, including promising to leave in place an elevated walkway from the Poe Garage, connecting to the library and continuing to the Straz performing arts center. They've offered to delay construction until the Straz's big show season is over. They've said they will give the Straz a million bucks just to be nice. On Thursday, Straz officials announced board trustees and the foundation board now support the project. The only thing they can't do is squeeze this monster into the wrong space and make it fit. I'm told "The Big Ugly" will become only the second man-made structure visible from the International Space Station, along with the Great Wall of China.OK, maybe I'm stretching it a tad, but you just wish they could have found another parcel for this Godzilla-sized project. My guess is that years from now as tourists stroll down the Riverwalk they will pause and stare at the tower and wonder if there is a cable lift to the top of Big Ugly Mountain. v vEarlier this week, the Florida Board of Education (which is not an oxymoron) approved a change to the grading system that has little to do with students and everything to do with making themselves look good this coming year. It wasn't easy to come up with this one, but for one year only they've devised a formula that will keep a school from dropping more than one letter grade. Among those who were opposed to the change was board member Sally Bradshaw, who summed it up perfectly when she said, "I don't understand when it became acceptable to manipulate the truth just because the truth has become uncomfortable.'' Obviously Bradshaw has not been paying attention in recent years as school districts have done everything under the sun to manipulate test scores and grading to cover their collective behinds. All I know is if the board had offered the same deal to students back in my day, things would have gone a little easier. v vFinally, Tampa will have the opportunity of putting its legendary Cuban sandwich up against 50 sandwiches from around the country, Nov. 7 to 10, at the World Food Championships in Las Vegas. I talked to Michelle Faedo of "Michelle Faedo's On the Go" food truck this week. The truck has been out of action for a few days since Michelle's husband, Robbie, fell off the back of the truck and broke his arm. The pair, who have captured the best Cuban sandwich contest for two year's running, will be back in action next week. "I'm excited about going to Las Vegas," Michelle says of the invitation. "I am worried about getting my bread fresh there, but I'm proud to represent Tampa and our sandwich against the others." I say bring on your muffaletas, Dagwoods and Reubens. Stack up your grilled cheeses and burgers. Load up your Philly cheesesteaks and Coneys, we'll be ready.