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TAMPA BAY, FLORIDA
Florida has many fine places to spend a restful retirement. But if you don't define retirement as golf, white belts and canasta, then Tampa Bay is the place to go to kick-start a second (or third) act. Says Katee Tully, a recent transplant to the area: "This is a rich, fertile place for people who are reinventing themselves."
Tully, 53, is in mid reinvention. A former associate dean of continuing education at the City University of New York, she's now on the board of The Studio@620, a community performing-arts center.
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Deb Talbot, 56, a former Chase executive in New York, is now well connected in Tampa Bay. Says Talbot: "I wasn't ready for typical volunteer efforts. I wasn't ready to lick stamps." She quickly arranged to consult for the Tampa Museum of Art, and she works with the Academy for Senior Professionals at Eckerd College, which connects retired professionals with art, literacy and charity groups.
Tampa Bay is really three cities. Tampa and Clearwater are surrounded by water and subdivisions. St. Petersburg has perhaps the best mix of good living, arts, culture and entrepreneurship.
In the early 20th century, city planners preserved the waterfront for public space and marinas. The dockside vibe still permeates the St. Pete peninsula. About a decade ago, the low-rise city started an extreme makeover in housing, arts, entrepreneurship and recreation. Now ten exhibition spots, including the St. Petersburg Museum of Fine Arts and the Salvador Dali Museum, share the city with a dozen performance venues.
Condo developers, recognizing the St. Pete appeal to retirees and young professionals, are building homes at a furious pace. A one-bedroom condo downtown can run as low as $150,000 in an older building. A two-bedroom unit in new construction can go for $500,000 or more.
The city of Tampa is a different case. Downtown is noted for its high-rise office buildings, but it also boasts the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, a stylish and massive amalgam of five theaters and 20 studios. Condos have begun springing up on the outskirts of downtown, and planners see thousands of units and riverfront development reshaping the city. "We'll have that urban vibe in five to ten years," says Christine Burdick, president of the Tampa Downtown Partnership. Nice lofts cost around $250,000.
If you prefer a house, the early-20th-century homes in chic Hyde Park, south of Tampa, go for about $600,000 for 2,200 square feet. For the same money, you can buy a recently built, 3,500-square-foot house in the sprawling 'burbs north, east and west of the city.
The Tampa Bay area seems ready to handle the health-care needs of the coming influx of baby-boomers. The number of health-care workers per capita is well above the national average, and Tampa's cutting-edge treatment centers include the top-tier H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute. -- Robert Frick
What you'll love about Tampa Bay
Ybor (say "ee-bore") City began as a cigar-rolling center in the 19th century and is now a collection of great restaurants, clubs and shops. Oh, and cigar-rolling boutiques. It's within a few minutes of downtown Tampa.
The Arts Center in St. Petersburg features engaging works by living artists. Hurry and catch the photo exhibition titled "Cracker Country: Florida's Cowboy Culture."
In Clearwater Beach, try the grouper sandwich at Frenchy's Rockaway Grill -- an old-Florida-style joint.
Alfred Baker, a retired U.S. Army colonel, moved to Harrisburg from Berlin, Germany, because his wife didn't want to give up the four-season climate. The fact that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania doesn't tax retirement income didn't hurt, either.
Low housing prices more than offset the relatively high property taxes. Baker's home on five wooded acres in Susquehanna Township, a northern suburb where the median home price is less than $112,000, is only minutes from the golf course, theaters, restaurants and medical care.
Baker, 66, loves cigars, and he opened Rae's Tobacco in Strawberry Square, the city's trendy downtown office-and-shopping complex. It's just a couple of blocks from the Susquehanna River. Each day an eclectic mix of cigar aficionados gather in the shop to fire up a favorite smoke and burn through the subject du jour.
The region's strong economy has helped foster a thriving cultural scene that includes the Whitaker Center for Science and the Arts -- home to the city's symphony orchestra, led by Tony Award-winner Stuart Malina -- and the National Civil War Museum. The region also supports theater and jazz. "It gets better every year," says Baker. "I made the right choice." -- Garry Lenton