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Community Volunteers To Build Tampa Heights Playground

The Tampa Heights Civic Association, PNC Bank and KaBOOM! are partnering on a new, innovative playground that will provide a safe place for children to play in the Tampa Heights community. Several years in the making, the new playground will be assembled in one day by volunteers on March 2. 

"This is so much more than a playground; it represents part of the implementation of a comprehensive neighborhood plan that the entire community has come together to create,'' says Lena Young Green, president of the Tampa Heights Junior Civic Association.

A national nonprofit organization, KaBOOM! has helped launch more than 2,200 playgrounds across the country. Founded in 1996 with the vision that every child in the U.S. should have a playground within walking distance of their home, KaBOOM! collaborates with communities to develop safe, accessible outdoor play spaces for kids.

A commitment of volunteers and community funding is required for planning to begin. PNC Bank, through the PNC Foundation's Grow Up Great initiative, provided the majority of funding to cover the cost of the playground. The Tampa Heights Civic Association is responsible for an additional $8,000. As of mid-February, $4,500 has been raised by the civic association, says Green.

The Tampa Heights playground will also include an Imagination Playground in a Cart, a play space designed by the New York architectural firm, The Rockwell Group. Movable blocks, mats, crates and fabric give children unstructured free play. 

When completed, the playground will be part of a Tampa Heights Health Zone, says Green. Other features include the Heights community garden; a greenway path for bicycling and walking, along with exercise stations and a dog walking area; a basketball court; and a youth and community center with commercial kitchen.

Volunteers are still needed to help assemble the playground equipment and move 43,740-square-feet of safety surface. The playground build-date is Saturday, March 2, from 8:30 am to 3 pm. 

Writer: Janan Talafer
Source: Lena Young Green, Tampa Heights Junior Civic Association

The Container Store Expands To Tampa's Westshore Area

Contain yourself: The Container Store is making its way to Tampa.

Offering a plethora of storage and organization products, The Container Store will open a 25,000 square foot store across the street from International Plaza at 4720 W. Spruce St. in the Westshore area.

As the third store in Florida with additional locations coming in 2013 to Orlando and Boca Raton, the Tampa Bay area location will celebrate its grand opening on Saturday, March 16th, and Sunday, March 17th; 10 percent of all sales from the weekend will go to the Junior League of Tampa.

"We are so thrilled to bring our beautiful collection of solutions to customers in Tampa, who have been requesting a store for years.'' says Casey Shilling, VP of public relations and marketing communications. "In fact, Tampa is our most requested location by our Facebook fans!''

The Container Store's new space will be organized into 16 signature lifestyle departments including closet, kitchen, office, travel, gift packaging and laundry, featuring more than 10,000 muftifunctional and innovative organization products.

Think: 700 organized office products, 350 products to organize travelers, 120 food storage solutions and 80 styles of hangers. Chances are, if you're looking for a storage solution, The Container Store has what you need.

"We value locations with a high density of our customer base, which is compromised of time- and space-starved customers who value our unique collection of products and high level of customer service,'' says Shilling of the Tampa Bay region. "We feel our proximity to International Plaza provides great visibility and accessibility for these time-crunched customers.''

One of Fortune Magazine's "100 Best Companies to Work For,'' The Conatiner Store's expansion to the Tampa Bay region will add about 55 jobs to the local community.

"We know our highly trained employees and fun, friendly atmosphere help make The Container Store a great place to work and shop.''

Writer: Alexis Quinn Chamberlain
Source: Casey Shilling, The Container Store

Men's Lifestyle Apparel Company Chooses CoWork Tampa, Focuses On Environment

Black & Denim Apparel Company, a men's lifestyle apparel company looking to take the green route by taking care of the environment with fashionable, eco-friendly clothing, has picked the Tampa Bay region to base its headquarters.

Black & Denim searched for a space to house an office and showroom, ultimately stumbling upon CoWork Tampa's entrepreneurial atmosphere, which offers the opportunity to interact with other companies, all under one roof.

"Instead of cities that have garment districts -- New York or Los Angeles -- we did a bit of research and it turns out that when the embargo hit, a lot of cigar factories in Tampa became sewing facilities,'' says Roberto Torres, president of Black & Denim. "Tampa's a natural hub, with one of the most active port systems in Florida, so we dug into the area's roots and decided to help create a garment district. We're trying to harness all of the talent coming out of design schools and major universities, which is paramount for our growth.''

According to Torres, Black & Denim -- which, by the way, is made and sourced entirely out of the United States -- plans to ultimately make CoWork Tampa a permanent home for the company with plans to house machinery on an empty floor, advertising their factory as a "must see destination for tourists,'' he says.

But for now, Black & Denim is focusing on the environment, calling "green technology fashion's new black'' with the launch of a kickstarter project in hopes of showing the region -- and the country -- that fashionable, eco-friendly clothing is possible. One technology currently being utilized by the company includes water-based inks versus traditional plastisol, which is harmful to the environment and, potentially, those wearing it. Sampling and upcycled materials are also a focus for the brand.

"We are thrilled to be able to add to the Tampa Bay economy: We're local and support the local shops and enterprises driving this town,'' Torres says. "One day, we want to be one of those 103-year-old businesses that calls Tampa home. We want to be a part of the history and fabric of the area.''

Black & Denim supports seven local boutiques and employs five employees at the local distribution facility. According to Torres, the company is looking to not only continue supporting local jobs, but create job opportunities in the near future.

Writer: Alexis Quinn Chamberlain
Source: Roberto Torres, Black & Denim Apparel Company

Leadership Sarasota Makes Plans To Improve Michael Biehl Park, Venice

Leadership Sarasota, a program of the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce, is making Venice's Michael Biehl Park a focus, with plans to improve the local park as part of a community service project.

Located next to Venice Theatre on West Tampa Avenue, improvements will be made to the park with $5,000 of seed money that was given to Leadership Sarasota by the local chamber of commerce to get the project off of the ground. ProGo Solutions, a company specializing in agronomic solutions, will also play an instrumental role in the project, as well as the City of Venice, the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board and Venice Theatre.

In addition, the program -- which is designed to nurture and engage leadership skills through community immersion, leadership training and educating participants on "how things work'' in the local community -- will use resources through various Tampa Bay area-based businesses for additional funds via in-kind donations of consulting, supplies and equipment.

"Leadership Sarasota's Class of 2013 came to choose the Michael Biehl Park project after thorough consideration'' says Bridget McGrath, a member of Leadership Sarasota. "We all felt that this park and location had immense potential to enhance downtown Venice and, with the resources we have through our class and the local community, knew this project would be a success.''

The project plans to brighten the park with lighting and landscaping, add picnic tables and bike racks and enhance the overall design of the park; an existing mural will be embellished with new lighting.

"Currently, the landscape is pretty drab and lacks color; we intend to change that,'' McGrath says. "We feel that this park is a main focal point when you enter historic downtown Venice and will be helping the continued revitalization of the downtown area.''

An unveiling and community barbecue will be held at the park on April 21st, celebrating the new and improved Michael Biehl Park. Until then, Leadership Sarasota has plans to put in more than five scheduled work days where the class in its entirety will be putting in work to see the project through.

"Leadership Sarasota's class of 2013 is full of solid talent and great charisma with a strong desire to give back to our beautiful community that we are so fortunate to call home.''

Writer: Alexis Quinn Chamberlain
Source: Bridget McGrath, Leadership Sarasota

Moffitt Grows Outpatient Services, Builds New $74M Clinic

Moffitt Cancer Center officially broke ground on a $74.2 million clinic building at it's McKinley campus in Tampa.

Located less than one mile from Moffitt's main campus, the eight-story, 200,000-square-foot outpatient medical facility, at 10902 N. McKinley Dr., will house clinical space for breast and skin cancer programs; infusion and imaging facilities; research labs; an ambulatory surgery center serving patients with cancers including breast, head and neck, melanoma and sarcoma; and space for blood draws. Administration facilities, offices and dining areas will also be located at the clinic.

Approximately $20 million of the budget will go toward new equipment with the remaining $54.2 million spent on the construction of the building itself and a parking garage.

“This new facility would not have been possible without the foresight and vision of our Florida Legislature, including timeless efforts of Rep. James Grant and Sen. Ronda Storms,” says Moffitt President and CEO Alan List, M.D., of the small increase in Cigarette Tax revenue the center received during the past legislative session.

Additionally, the 30 acres of land being utilized for the first phase of the McKinley expansion was donated by the City of Tampa and Hillsborough County.

“We are so grateful that the city and county have stood in full support of Moffitt's mission -- to contribute to the prevention and cure of cancer -- since we opened,” List says.

With more than 4,200 employees, Moffitt has an economic impact on the state of Florida of nearly $2 billion. This specific project is expected to create more than 600 construction jobs and hundreds of permanent jobs upon opening.

Writer: Alexis Quinn Chamberlain
Source: Alan List, M.D., Moffitt Cancer Center

Tampa's Nehemiah Project: Reinvent Sulphur Springs

Mayor Buckhorn is making Tampa's Sulphur Springs a focus for community progress with the announcement of the Nehemiah Project.

As part of city's commitment to improve the low-income neighborhood north of downtown, the project will demolish 51 uninhabitable homes over the next six months. Funds for the project will come from the general fund with each demolition costing approximately $5,500. Once demolished, each lot will be maintained by the Clean City Division.

“These demolitions are long overdue,” Buckhorn says. “Abandoned houses are like a cancer in the neighborhood: They become a magnet for drugs, gangs and prostitution and devalue all of the adjoining properties.”

Additionally, in an effort to help continue the revitalization of Sulphur Springs, the city has dedicated three full-time code enforcement officers to the area and will install 33 new street lights in a four-block radius as part of the “Bright Lights, Safe Nights” initiative.

“Block by block, I am making a commitment to bust the blight and improve the quality of life,” Buckhorn says.

Each of the homes facing demolition has multiple code enforcement violations and been deemed uninhabitable. Of the 51 properties, 45 are located within the Sulphur Springs neighborhood and six are just north of Busch Boulevard. Many of the homes are in foreclosure and none are historic properties.

"What I would like to do is not have a vacant lot sitting there, but have a single-family home," Buckhorn says.

Writer: Alexis Quinn Chamberlain
Source: Mayor Bob Buckhorn, City of Tampa

Fitlife Foods Opens Fourth Location, St. Pete

Attention health food nuts: Don't miss the new Fitlife Foods location in downtown St. Pete.

Open to the public as of Monday, January 28th, the 1,200-square-feet store is the fourth location in the Tampa Bay area, offering flavorful, healthy and convenient prepared meals -- “indulgently fit prepared meals.”

Fitlife Owner and CEO David Osterweil says Fitlife Foods is all about powerfully good, made-from-scratch, fresh prepared breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack options. Whether you're looking for a healthy bagel sandwich, Mexican veggie melt (aka nachos), feel good chicken tenders or snicker doodle cookies -- Fitlife Foods has you covered, using unique ingredients to make all of your favorite foods guilt free.

“What law says you can't eat the foods that you crave and have it be nutritious and delicious as well?” Osterweil says. “It doesn't matter whether you are running a marathon, running behind on time or just trying to manage your busy life. Fitlife Foods is there to make it easier for you.”

The first Fitlife location opened in February 2011 on South Dale Mabry Highway in South Tampa. Since, additional locations have made their way to North Tampa and Clearwater. The new St. Pete location includes the local chain's newest interior design with an interactive chalkboard for guests to post health and fitness goals.

“St. Petersburg is a dynamic market in the Tampa Bay metro area with many people who are on the go and are looking for food to power them through their busy days,” Osterweil says. “Many residents of the area have been coming to our Tampa and Clearwater locations for some time and we wanted to reach out to this important cultural center in our community.”

Fitlife Foods offers health and weight loss programs to help kick start residents who are trying to drop inches and pounds, including the new Project U program and the 7, 14 and 21 Day Project (formerly the 21 Day Challenge).

“We really want people to be able to enjoy all of their favorite foods while getting fit in 2013!”

Writer: Alexis Quinn Chamberlain
Source: David Osterweil, Fitlife Foods

Pasco County Launches Business Incubator, Dade City

Pasco County entrepreneurs soon will be able to take advantage of the county's first business incubator.

On Tuesday, January 22nd, the Dade City Commissioners showed support for local entrepreneurs by approving $50,000 to launch the first business incubator in Pasco County; the incubator will be located in the Dade City Business Center on Citrus Villas Lane and managed by a team led by the Pasco Economic Development Council (EDC).

“The incubator project represents a fantastic opportunity for Dade City in job creation, promotion of our community as 'open for business' and supporting entrepreneurship,” says John Moors, executive director of the Greater Dade City Chamber of Commerce. “We look forward to working with our partners in promoting this new growth while maintaining our unique, old Florida sense of community.”

The Dade City Business Center location will play a big role, helping the Pasco EDC to assist start-up companies or early stage businesses grow, add local jobs and receive necessary technical assistance; Saint Leo University has offered to partner with the EDC on this venture, offering that assistance to start-ups.

“The incubator completes a long-term objective for Saint Leo's Donald R. Tapia School of Business to deepen our support to the local business community and provide opportunities for our students and faculty to engage in creating new businesses,” says School of Business Dean Michael Nastanski.

The incubator coming into fruition has been a year in the making by the Pasco EDC.

Writer: Alexis Quinn Chamberlain
Source: John Moors, Greater Dade City Chamber of Commerce; Michael Nastanski, Saint Leo University

Uhsome Media, Marketing Opens In Sarasota HuB

Local Tampa media and marketing agency Uhsome has announced an expansion, bringing the company's growth to the Sarasota area.

The brains behind CoWorkTampa, a Tampa-based coworking loft offering affordable memberships to local freelancers and entrepreneurs, Uhsome's new 300-square-foot office will be housed inside of HuB's newly opened space at 1680 Fruitville Road in Sarasota. The HuB space celebrated the grand opening of the Fruitville Road location in December 2012.

“Sarasota is an up and coming, wealthy area with a lot of baby boomers needing online assistance,” says Uhsome CEO Chris Arnoldi. “HuB is at the forefront of the technology scene and is definitely the spot to be. We like associating ourselves with people doing it the right way.”

Since 2009, HuB has been active in promoting big ideas in Sarasota and their renovation of a 10,000-square-foot building is continuing to embrace that concept by housing innovative tech companies, entrepreneurs and creative/tech startups. HuB founder Rich Swier Jr. worked on the renovation with Sarasota's HOYT Architects and Biter Enterprises.

“We do a lot business with people working out of the HuB already,” Arnoldi says. “We plan to be more efficient and accessible.”

Uhsome will begin operating out of their new HuB office on February 1st, offering the same suite of professional services including everything from web design, hosting, consulting and development to iPhone apps and mobile sites.

Writer: Alexis Quinn Chamberlain
Source: Chris Arnoldi, Uhsome

The Workout Scene: The Bar Method, Tampa

Tampa workout junkies, say hello to the Bar Method, a full-body exercise program using a ballet bar fitness technique while drawing from the principles of isometrics, dance conditioning, interval training and physical therapy.

Think: dance, pilates and yoga.

Tampa Bay resident and Bar Method enthusiast Jeanette DePuy celebrated the opening of Tampa's first Bar Method studio at MetWest International in Tampa’s Westshore Business District on January 12th. DePuy trained at the Bar Method's flagship studio in San Francisco with founder Burr Leonard, ultimately falling in love with the workout.

“I didn't love any of the things I was doing to be fit until I found this. The way that your body changes because of it is different than any other workout, targeting muscles differently and sculpting hard-to-reach areas,” DePuy says. “I knew I had to open my own studio.”

Calling the hour-long workout “fun and addicting,” DePuy wanted a central location for the studio, ultimately finding the perfect 2,800-square-feet studio in MetWest International, MetLife's 32-acre mixed-used development in Westshore.

“We opened with a full schedule, raring to go and already have a lot of activity from the surrounding office buildings,” she says. “The commuity class members who have tried the Bar Method are already hooked.”

Noticeable results from the workout, she says, include firm, elongated muscles; reduced body fat; high muscle definition in the chest; improved posture; long, narrow thighs; defined hamstrings; increased stamina and energy; strong, flat abdominals; and extended youthfulness.

“Overall, it's just a very intense workout that quickly and safely reshapes your body,” says DePuy, who already has plans to open an additional studio in New Tampa; third and fourth studios may make their way to South Tampa and Pinellas County.

Writer: Alexis Quinn Chamberlain
Source: Jeanette DePuy, The Bar Method

The Fresh Market Coming To Brandon, Lithia

The Fresh Market, a specialty grocery retail chain, is expanding into Brandon.

With a goal of providing high-quality products in a unique, inviting shopping atmosphere, The Fresh Market has plans to open a more than 18,000-square-feet location in the Lithia Crossing shopping center on Lithia-Pinecrest Road in Brandon in 2013.

The 7th Tampa Bay area location and 35th location in Florida, the Lithia Crossing grocery store will work as an anchor store to surrounding businesses such as Land and Sea Market, Cold Stone Creamery, Stein Mart and Panera Bread.

As The Fresh Market's broker representative for West Florida, Florida Retail Partners brokered the lease for the company's newest location. Kalyn Brandewie, founding partner with Florida Retail Partners, says the Brandon area was chosen because The Fresh Market believes their store will be a welcomed addition to the affluent community.

"We are excited about our continued expansion in the South, in Florida in particular," says Randy Kelley, senior VP of real estate and development for The Fresh Market. "We look forward to building on the success of our other Florida locations, where we have enjoyed a strong and loyal customer base."

Opened in Greensboro, N.C. in 1982, The Fresh Market now operates 129 stores in 25 states, focused on offering a variety of fresh, natural and organic groceries and prepared foods; each store includes a full-service butcher shop, bakery, delicatessen, produce section, fish market and floral stand.

"[Upon visiting,] customers will discover that our stores are committed to variety, freshness and value, as well as customer service," says Craig Carlock, The Fresh Market president and CEO.

The Fresh Market currently operates locations in St. Pete, Sarasota, Bradenton, Clearwater, Carrollwood and South Tampa.

Writer: Alexis Quinn Chamberlain
Source: Randy Kelley & Craig Carlock, The Fresh Market

New Art Gallery Opens, Downtown St. Pete

A new art gallery has made its way to the Edge District in downtown St. Pete.

The Basement at Downtown St. Pete -- which, yes, is actually a basement -- is a new 3,000-square-foot exposed brick space, featuring work by up and coming Tampa Bay area artists. Sponsored by local restaurants and bars, The Basement plans to host monthly events.

“The space is so unparalleled it just oozes creativity,” says The Basement's Nicki Odato. “It brings a surge of uniqueness to an already eclectic city.”

Odato, who runs The Basement with friend Sam Renick, says they weren't looking to open an art gallery when they came across the space at 1000 Central Ave. Instead, they were in the process of looking for a studio space for their local furniture design business, Sotted Design, but saw huge potential for an art gallery.

“Everything just happened organically: We came across the space, it made sense and everything fell into place,” Renick says. “We hope that when people visit The Basement, the same feeling we get every time we go down there, transpires to them.”

In addition to displaying local art, The Basement space is available to rent for photoshoots, videos, yoga classes, etc.

“We love out of the box ideas! Nothing is off of the table when it comes to an idea for the space.”

Writer: Alexis Quinn Chamberlain
Source: Nicki Odato, The Basement

Redesigned Carrollwood Plaza Adds Small Town Boutiques, Tampa

Regency Center's newly designed Village Center is bringing small businesses to Carrollwood by creating a central gathering, shopping, and dining place for everyone to enjoy. When the existing Walgreens and Publix stores in the plaza experienced increased customer traffic, Regency Centers drafted up a fresh design to accommodate the growing customer demands, new retail space and local boutique shops.

The revised plaza design incorporates a "village approach with a small town feel,'' says Senior Leasing Agent Cary Anderson. Construction will be  complete by April 2014, but many local shops like Shear Art Salon & Spa have already moved into their swanky new digs, which now feature frontage on a brand new plaza roadway.

Melting Pot of Tampa, located in the shopping center, is also planning a remodel of its restaurant. New retail space is being constructed in the southwest portion of the plaza, and as construction progresses, Village Center is adding local boutique shops inclusive of "clothing, jewelry, home furnishings and similar stores.'' Other new tenants include an upscale Asian bistro concept restaurant.

The design also incorporates a larger Publix with expanded offerings and a free-standing Walgreens, complete with a drive-through window.

Publix will close around April 1st and aims to reopen in April 2014; Walgreens will experience no downtime and plans to move into its new store in April 2014.

A new entryway from South Village Drive will run from the south side of the plaza and extend northeast through to the front of Publix, providing "additional exposure for businesses and increased customer access.''

The redesign aims to create a central gathering, shopping and dining hub for Carrollwood residents.

"Where is the gathering place to go to in Carrollwood? There really isn't a central spot,'' says Anderson. "The Village Center can become that place.''

New plaza features include an updated courtyard and outside seating, allowing residents to watch the "courtyard come to life, making it a more popular gathering spot for Carrollwood,'' Anderson says.

Writer: Kaye Brown
Source: Cary Anderson and Kristen Moore, Regency Centers

New Bistro To Open In Tampa Convention Center, Downtown Tampa

Designed to provide an oasis from the loud, congested atmosphere typically found in convention centers, a new dining option is coming to the 600,000-square-foot Tampa Convention Center.

Located on the waterfront in the heart of downtown Tampa, Bay Bistro at the Tampa Convention Center will expand opportunities for patrons taking advantage of the Riverwalk. The new 7,830-square-foot waterfront bistro promises to provide visitors an opportunity to enjoy menu items and daily chef specials while relaxing on both lounge seating or traditional cafe seating.

The restaurant will officially open to the public, serving lunch, on Wednesday, January 16th.

“Bay Bistro was added to reposition the Convention Center as a destination rather than just a venue for special events,” says Eric Blanc, director of sales and marketing at the Center. “As we continue to separate ourselves from the competition, Bay Bistro, as well as The Sail Pavilion (located on Tampa's Riverwalk), are keys to our success in providing that memorable experience we wish to provide our guests.”

A year in the making, Blanc says the Tampa Convention Center is focusing efforts on customer experience and satisfaction.

Bay Bistro is expected to feature an eclectic menu with items including Southern-Fried Green Tomatoes, Brie-L-T, Grilled Mahi Mahi, Bay Bistro Fritters, Chicken Mole Quesadillas and Portobello Steak Salad. Prices will range from $6 to $12.

“The Convention Center is not just a convention center to be used by visitors to Tampa. It is our goal to provide quality events and activities that the citizens of Tampa can participate in and enjoy,” Blanc says. “Bay Bistro is only the beginning of an exciting development that will culminate with Tampa's waterfront becoming one of the best waterfront destinations in the country.”

For Bay Bistro hours and more information, visit the Tampa Convention Center website.

Writer: Alexis Quinn Chamberlain
Source: Eric Blanc, Tampa Convention Center

Former Bank To Become Boutique Hotel, Downtown Tampa

The former Mercantile Bank building in downtown Tampa will soon undergo a renovation into a 130-room boutique hotel.

Located at Ashley Drive and Kennedy Boulevard at 100 W. Kennedy Blvd., the eight-story Mercantile Bank building was built in 1964, overlooking the Hillsborough River and the University of Tampa (UT). Now, Aloft Hotels, a national brand of hotels owned by Connecticut-based Starwood Hotels and Resorts, will revamp the former bank into a boutique hotel expected to open by early 2014.

“While we already own several premier hotels in the Tampa Bay area, my family has specifically been focused on developing a hotel in downtown Tampa for years,” says Punit Shah of Clearwater-based Liberty Group, who will own and manage the Aloft project as part of a collaboration with Santosh Govindaraju of Tampa's Convergent Capital Partners. “This project presents the perfect opportunity to own the hippest hotel in the most dynamic location in Tampa Bay."

The building was purchased by private equity firm Convergent Capital Partners for $2 million in early May 2012. An additional $7 million is expected as an investment into the renovation of the building with work beginning by May 2013.

The Aloft Downtown Tampa renovation will include 130 rooms, seawall repairs, a 4,000-square-foot rooftop terrace overlooking the infamous UT minarets, a 24-hour fitness center, new elevators and roof, and a waterfront pool. Orlando-based Baker Barrios Architects will act as lead architect and interior designer on the project.

“We want this to be a place where people meet at the hotel for a drink, have a walk down the Riverwalk or sit on the outdoor patio and see that gorgeous view of the University of Tampa,” Govindaraju says.

Upon opening, Aloft's Tampa location will be the fifth Aloft hotel in Florida; Aloft currently has 60 hotels in 10 countries.

Writer: Alexis Quinn Chamberlain
Source: Punit Shah, Liberty Group & Santosh Govindaraju, Convergent Capital Partners
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