Ping pong may bring urban excitement and activity to Downtown Tampa

Urban Conga wants to liven up downtown

TAMPA, Fla. - The downtowns of Tampa and St. Petersburg have come a long way, but if there's not a food truck rally or concert going on, you won't find a lot of people after business hours. But now a group of young people out of USF wants to give you a reason to visit, hang out and maybe even move to the downtown.

Their plan starts with ping pong.

Ryan Swanson, co-founder of the nonprofit Urban Conga, has just received a grant to build a prototype stainless steel ping pong table for Joe Chillura Park. The recent USF graduate says statues, architecture and park benches are fine, but they don't give people anything to do.

"Downtown Tampa has a lot of underutilized spaces, so the idea is if people start playing and engaging in these spaces, then your city becomes more active," said Swanson.

Urban Conga injects fun into cities with pop-up performances and other creative events. But now they want to start building fun into existing public spaces. Swanson saw outdoor ping pong tables made of steel or concrete in bigger cities and thought it would be the perfect way for people here in the bay area to engage even if they can't play table tennis.

"They see people playing and it becomes a spectacle where people crowd around and watch and it becomes an activity in itself -- just watching people play," said Swanson.

Swanson hopes to enlist local restaurants to sponsor the tables and provide free paddles and balls in exchange for more foot traffic.

Shaun Drinkard of the Tampa Downtown Partnership thinks the idea will be good for business.

"It gets people into a storefront to make a purchase. So there's an economic development concept that ties in with play. The perfect mix" said Drinkard.
Urban Conga believes activity, not just just new buildings will make Tampa Bay's urban centers more attractive to young professionals  

"I think everybody's just like 'build, build, build,' where really the problem is you just need to bring life to the city," said Swanson.

Urban Conga still has to get approval from the city and the parks department, but they hope to have a full size prototype ping pong table set up for the mayor's next food truck rally in Gaslight Park in July.

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