TAMPA - During her time on Tampa City Council, Yvonne Yolie Capin has made it her trademark to promote Tampa's Hispanic heritage. She created a citizens' advisory committee to promote the city's cultural assets, among them the Cuban sandwich. The popular, good-natured rivalry with Miami that resulted brought Tampa national attention just in time for last year's Republican National Convention. She was outspoken in last year's lengthy debate over the alternative name for Ybor City's Seventh Avenue: Septima or Setima. Last month, she spoke at the dedication of Ybor City's newest mural, "American Journey," which highlights Tampa's Cuban, Spanish and Sicilian roots. In her speech, she highlighted her own roots in the community.
But Capin's latest proposal - renaming 140-year-old Nebraska Avenue in honor of Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, a 16th-century colonial governor known for the brutal murder of French protestants in St. Augustine - has created a storm of public opposition. On Friday, she got an earful from political junkies attending the monthly lunch of the professionals' group Tiger Bay Club. Her office in Old City Hall was flooded with phone calls and emails. Long-time Tampa residents protested renaming a street that's been around since 1876. Owners of businesses along Nebraska worried about the impact change would have on their bottom lines. Even members of the local University of Nebraska alumni chapter felt a twinge of betrayal. "Invariably, someone will move down and they'll wonder why there's a street named Nebraska here," said Tony Gevo, president of Tampa Bay Huskers. "It just gives them a warm feeling." It was all enough to give Capin pause. "I thought this would be a fresh start for the people there," she said Friday. "Nebraska, it didn't mean that much to me." Nebraska the avenue has a reputation for crime and prostitution, two things Mayor Bob Buckhorn hopes to purge by remaking the street as part of his InVision Tampa project. City officials said Thursday renaming Nebraska could cost the city up to $75,000 - more if Hillsborough County makes the city cover renaming costs north of Fowler Avenue. The change could cost an extra hundreds of thousands for more than 525 businesses along the street that would have to order new signs, stationery and business cards. Joe Portalatin works at one of those business, Nebraska Tires Corp., which has been at 4402 N. Nebraska Ave. for 15 years. "Why change the name?" Portalatin said. "It would hurt small businesses that would have to change their name." Capin said she proposed the change to mark the 500th anniversary of the Spanish discovery of Florida. She also saw the change as a way to connect Tampa's young Hispanics with the state's Hispanic history. Menéndez de Avilés founded St. Augustine in 1565 and also visited Tampa Bay with an expedition briefly in 1566. "I look at this as something that young Hispanics don't even know - their own history," Capin said. And what about Menéndez de Avilés' reputation as a ruthless conquistador who murdered French protestant settlers near present-day Jacksonville? "That's revisionist history," Capin said. "That's what we Hispanics have been dealing with." Menéndez de Avilés was from the Asturias region of Spain. The same region sent thousands of immigrants to Tampa in the early 20th Century to work in cigar factories. Those immigrants built the Centro Asturiano on Nebraska at the western edge of Ybor City. That bit of history doesn't sway those who say changing the name is an unnecessary expense. "Tampa is full of people from Asturias," said attorney Wayne Thomas, who grew up near Nebraska in Seminole Heights. "It's also full of people from Sicily and people from Cuba." But Capin isn't giving up just yet. She denied that her plan for Nebraska had gone south on her. "It seems that way," she said. "But a lot of things seem that way." If renaming Nebraska proves too costly or too unpopular, Capin said she has a potential fall back: Palm Avenue also runs past the Centro Asturiano. [email protected] (813) 259-7871 Twitter: @kwiatrowskiTBO