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Student Groups In Tampa Bay: The City Side Of Tampa

Student Groups In Tampa Bay: The City Side Of Tampa Banner Image

Tampa is a city with many sides to it. It’s home to three major sports teams and the Florida State Fair. It boasts rich Cuban heritage and an inexplicable obsession with Pirates. It’s nestled against a beautiful bay, but still holds room for acres of theme park. Tampa is a large, diverse city, and, naturally, has a significant artistic and cultural element.

On our recent trip, I was personally excited to visit the David A. Straz, Jr. Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Tampa. The Straz Center is one of the largest performing arts complexes in the United States. It’s home to Tampa’s touring Broadway Series, grand opera productions, out-of-town tryouts for new Broadway shows, and many other diverse original productions and touring acts. I have long been a patron of the Straz, and I must say, I was really excited to see the large lobby and auditorium of Morsani Hall, the largest of the Center’s five(!) theatres, completely empty. I could spot several seats I’ve occupied over the years!

Adjacent to the Straz Center is the Dr. Pallavi Patel Performing Arts Conservatory. The Patel Conservatory was something I was familiar with in name, and I knew their influence on the arts in Tampa was significant, but I had no idea of the wealth of their offerings for performing arts students of all ages. It is truly a remarkable place, and all of its 45,000 square feet are dedicated to training in the arts. The Conservatory does host all-day dance students in their prestigious pre-professional academy, but most of their classes are conducted in the evenings, after kids get out of school. This frees up their ample facilities to visiting groups who can participate in workshops with the Conservatory’s highly-experienced in-house instructors, or rent the spaces and bring in their own clinicians. The Conservatory has rehearsal and workshop spaces that meet just about any performance group’s needs. They house multiple dance studios, complete with mirror and barre apparatus, sound-proof rooms sized for everything from private instruction to full-orchestral rehearsals, and a multi-functional black-box theater with in-house scene and costume shops. I was most impressed to find that they even offer instruction in Rock Band and Stand-Up Comedy, and that the catwalks in the theater are specially designed to be suitable for training purposes.

I couldn’t help but think what an amazing opportunity it would be for a student performing arts group to spend a day in workshops at the Patel Conservatory and then top it off by attending an evening performance at the Straz. There’s always something playing at the Straz. Broadway touring companies, the Opera Tampa series, concerts, ballet, the Straz’s resident theatre company, it’s almost guaranteed that at least one of these is on stage on any given night. A visiting student group can even finish their night with a Q & A session with the performers, which the Straz regularly offers on Wednesdays.

I can’t begin to do justice to the breadth of offerings at the Straz Center, but I feel pretty comfortable saying that between their wealth of performance choices, and the educational offerings of the Patel Conservatory, Tampa can consider itself a city with a performing arts culture that any major metropolitan area should envy.

Now to a different art form: the culinary arts. Tampa is home to some pretty famous restaurants (Bern’s Steakhouse comes to mind), but none celebrate Tampa’s strong Cuban historical component like the Columbia Restaurant. I had walked by the Columbia and its beautiful tiled walls countless times, and I had eaten at one of their branch locations, but I had never had occasion to venture inside and enjoy the original. The Columbia is a traditionally Cuban restaurant located in Tampa’s Ybor City and has been owned and operated by the same family since 1905. The atmosphere of the original Columbia is one that cannot be re-created at any of its branches.

The building is old, the rooms are unique to each other, and live flamenco dancers perform while you eat. It is a sprawling property; it appears to take up almost a block and is composed of many individual rooms of varying size and decor. Its size and versatility make it a surprisingly good fit for large student groups. Private corners and set-menus can be provided to just such groups. The stage for the flamenco dancers can even be moved to any part of the restaurant, so it is possible to accommodate group size without compromising entertainment value. The Columbia also offers boxed meals to groups who want to sample their authentic Ybor cuisine, but may not have the time to sit down for a meal. A trip to the Columbia or a boxed-meal picnic by the Bay would make an awesome precursor to an evening performance at the Straz.

Tampa as a city of art and culture has a lot to offer any visitor, and student groups looking for great performance and workshop opportunities, or just for a fun day in the city, can definitely benefit from all it has to offer!

Any questions about taking student groups to downtown Tampa? Give us a call at 800-774-7337 or email us at