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The city of Tampa is the county seat of Hillsborough County and the largest city in the greater West Central Florida region.
Tampa is situated on the north shore of Tampa Bay in West Central Florida. Saint Petersburg lies west of the bay, while Bradenton is on the southern shore. The downtown business center of the city is on the north shore of Hillsborough Bay (a small bay within Tampa Bay which is bordered by the eastern shore of Tampa Bay and the small peninsula of South Tampa) and Ybor City lies just to the east. MacDill Air Force Base is on the southern tip of South Tampa, while the city also extends to the north all the way to the newly incorporated area of New Tampa.
The Tampa Bay area was visited by many Spanish explorers, beginning with Panfilo de Narvaez in 1528. However, no long term permanent settlements were created until 1824 when the US federal government created a reservation for north Florida Seminole Indians. At the same time, the US created Fort Brooke to oversee the reservation as well as protect the strategic harbor.
The 1880s saw the town's first population boom. In 1883, phosphate was discovered in the area, spurring the development of the mining and shipping industries in the area. Shortly after, Henry B. Plant completed work on his railroad linking Tampa to Jacksonville. He began promoting Tampa as a holiday spot and built the grand Plant Hotel as a luxury resort destination. In 1886, Jose Martinez Ybor opened Tampa's first cigar factory in Ybor City which encouraged the immigration of many Italian and Cuban factory workers.
During the Spanish American War at the turn of the century, Tampa was the main port of departure for troops heading for Cuba. During this time, the Plant Hotel was converted into officer's accommodations, housing the Rough Riders and Teddy Roosevelt.
In more recent times, MacDill Air Force Base was created in 1939 and the University of South Florida in 1956. Over the course of the Twentieth Century, Tampa has grown into the center of a large metropolitan area; it now hosts the regional headquarters of many international companies, has acquired numerous professional sports teams, and has even bid for the summer Olympics.
Tampa is a very diverse city. The first residents were the members of the Seminole Indian tribe that was relocated there from northern Florida and the soldiers stationed at Fort Brook to control the reservation. The town remained a mostly military town until the 1880s when Tampa saw its first major waves of immigration from Cuba and Italy. The major growth of the area did not occur until air conditioning became common in the years after World War II, but the region has been growing steadily since then. Tampa is now home to many native Floridians, including Seminoles, Cubans, and Italians, as well the residence of many 'transplants' from the Midwest and other areas of the states and new immigrants from the Caribbean and central America. Tampa's population swells during the winter months with the arrival of the 'snowbirds,' retired persons from the northern U.S. and Canada who come down for a few months to enjoy the relative warmth.
Tampa has a growing economy and serves as a major port. Among others, Raymond James, Home Shopping Network, Outback Steakhouse, and a major portion of Citigroup are all headquartered in Tampa. Tampa's major industries today are phosphate mining, shipping, citrus processing, shrimping, and tourism.
Tampa International Airport (IATA: TPA) (ICAO: KTPA), , located near the waters of Tampa Bay along I-275. Saint Petersburg Airport (IATA: PIE) is an alternative only fifteen miles away, generally serving smaller routes and discount airlines. A bit further away is Sarasota International , offering proximity to beautiful Gulf beaches to the south of Tampa.
Tampa's Amtrak station is located at 601 Nebraska Avenue in downtown Tampa. The Silver Service and Palmetto trains run daily from New York City or Miami to Tampa. The train journey through Florida offers great views, but be aware that the schedules are often more of a suggestion than a reality.
Tampa is easily accessible via the major interstate highways, I-75 from north and south, and I-4 from the east. From either highway, exit onto I-275 to reach Tampa. However, be prepared for frequent traffic jams particularly when it rains.
Tampa's Greyhound station is at 610 Polk Street in downtown Tampa.
Cruise ships from five cruise lines operate from Tampa, mostly to Caribbean islands and Mexico. The Tampa cruise terminal is on the Ybor channel downtown.
HART is Tampa's local bus service which runs various routes around the region. Tampa also has the TECO Line Streetcar that runs from downtown to Old Hyde Park and Ybor City. Tampa is, however, primarily a driving city and you will find that transportation will be much easier if you have access to a car. The main freeways in Tampa are Interstate 275, Interstate 4, the Veterans Expressway (toll FL 589), and the Leroy Selmon Crosstown Expressway (toll FL 618). Some of the main east-west roads through town are Kennedy Boulevard (SR 60), Gandy Boulevard (SR 694), Hillsborough Avenue (US 92) and Fowler Avenue (SR 582), while some of the north-south roads are Dale Mabry Highway (US 92) and Florida/Nebraska Avenue (US 41). Traffic is especially bad during the rush hours: from about 7:30 to 9:30 am and 3:30PM to 7:30PM. During these times, try especially to avoid the notorious Malfunction Junction, the junction in downtown of I-275 and I-4. Driving in Tampa can be a bit daunting for those unfamiliar with the area, but with some city driving experience and a good navigator in the passenger seat, driving is probably the easiest way to get around Tampa.