The current location of Tampa was once inhabited by various indigenous cultures, most recently the Tocobaga. It was spotted by Spanish explorers in the early 16th century, but there were no permanent American or European settlements in the area until 1824, when the US Army established a frontier outpost called Fort Brooke at the site of today's Tampa Convention Center. The village of Tampa began as a small group of pioneers who settled near the fort for protection from the Seminole population in the area.
Today, Tampa is a part of the metropolitan area most commonly referred to as the Tampa Bay Area. For U.S. Census purposes, Tampa is part of the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, Florida MSA. The four-county area is composed of roughly 2.7 million residents, making it the second largest metropolitan statistical area (MSA) in the state, and the fourth largest in the Southeastern United States, behind Miami, Washington, D.C., and Atlanta. The Greater Tampa Bay area has just over 4 million residents and generally includes the Tampa and Sarasota metro areas. The Tampa Bay Partnership and U.S. Census data showed an average annual growth of 2.47 percent, or a gain of approximately 97,000 residents per year. Between 2000 and 2006, the Greater Tampa Bay Market experienced a combined growth rate of 14.8 percent, growing from 3.4 million to 3.9 million and hitting the 4 million people mark on April 1, 2007.