West of downtown and east of the West Shore business district lies West Tampa, which in its heyday boasted more cigar factories than Ybor City.

It also produced more cigars than anywhere else in the world.

Today, "it's rapidly transitioning to being very diverse, with lots of Caucasians and Asian-Americans," says former city council member Ed Turanchik, who was instrumental in the development of In Town Homes, an award-winning redevelopment plan featuring single-family homes whose classic designs blend well with the original homes in the neighborhood.

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Near the downtown and West Shore employment centers, this emerging neighborhood is close to the upscale International Plaza and Bay Street and minutes from the Tampa Bay Times Forum, major hospitals and cultural centers.

Twenty years ago it was predominantly Hispanic and African-American.

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Stop in at the West Tampa Arts Center, an old cigar factory with 25 working studios and a gallery. Within a 2-mile radius, residents can take in an NHL game or top artist live in concert at the Tampa Bay Times Forum; catch a traveling Broadway production at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts or an independent film or classic at the historic Tampa Theatre; visit one of a half-dozen museums, art galleries and the world-class Florida Aquarium; or run, bike or walk an impressive collection of parks and pedestrian-friendly outdoor play areas, among them Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, Lykes Gaslight Park, and one of the city’s most recent additions, the Tampa Riverwalk.

And that’s not even mentioning the opportunity to shop and dine at dozens of businesses in this growing community with an array of sophisticated living space options available to make being in or around downtown Tampa a possibly permanent lifestyle decision.

Seminole Heights is home to some of Tampa’s most lauded, established little culinary gems like the nearly 60-year-old Bo’s Ice Cream and the infamous Taco Bus, serving cheap, authentic Mexican cuisine at all hours of the day – and we mean, all. Artists and the patrons who love their work can have a blast at the Phoenix Glass Studio and Gallery with live glass-blowing demos and check out other art events, historic home tours and Second Sunday Morning Markets to get to know their community better.

Everyone seems to use the word "funky" to describe this town between St. Maybe it's the housing – lots of bungalows (including several Sears, Roebuck kit houses from the 1920s), Queen Annes and concrete-block houses from the 1950s and 1960s Maybe it's the mix of artists, business folk, longtime residents and newcomers, or the laid-back, tolerant atmosphere.

This is one of the most urban neighborhoods in the Tampa Bay area: restaurants, retail, office, commercial, two college campuses, several museums, many churches, hotels, plus waterfront parks and great views.

More than 5,000 people live here, from young professionals to seniors moving out of big family homes in other neighborhoods: in single-family homes and townhomes, apartments, midrise buildings and luxury highrises.

The houses painted in bright colors, the friendly beer joints and the views across Boca Ciega Bay certainly don't hurt.