Talk of Riverfront Park changes alarms some West Tampa residents

That’s the plea from several West Tampa residents who worried Thursday that Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s musings about the future of Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park are leaving them out of the loop. In particular, residents of the West Riverfront neighborhood are worried that one of the mayor’s ideas, putting a waterfront restaurant in the park, could make it less available to the people who live closest to it. “A lot of us use that park,” Dr. Lois Miles told the City Council. “I’d hate to see it destroyed just to put up a restaurant.”

JBLaneRivrfrntParkSIGNResidents should not worry, Buckhorn said after the meeting. They will have a say in planning any changes at the N Boulevard park. “They will be fully engaged at the appropriate time when we have something to talk about,” he said. “I want this to be their plan.” But it’s no surprise that residents are tuned in to discussions about the future of the park, the riverfront and West Tampa. There are a lot of them going on:

  • The Tampa Housing Authority, after consulting with city officials, has sought proposals from private developers to create a master plan for a 120-acre area that includes the 23 acres at Riverfront Park. The first part of the plan is expected to address the demolition and redevelopment of the North Boulevard Homes and Mary Bethune public housing complexes.
  • For more than a year, the city has been getting advice from the nonprofit, Washington D.C. – based Urban Land Institute about ways to redevelop and improve Tampa’s downtown, including the 120-acre area being studied by the housing authority.
  • As a part of its InVision Tampa project, which began in April, the city has held a series of public meetings to ask for ideas from residents and businesses about what they want to see in the way of design guidelines, amenities and connections between downtown and surrounding areas, including West Tampa.
  • The West Tampa Chamber of Commerce two weeks ago unveiled a plan to rebrand, redevelop and bring improved transit to West Tampa.

While Buckhorn said those discussions have not focused in on specific plans for Riverfront Park, he has done some thinking out loud himself. In September, Buckhorn told the Times that he wants to bring new activity, including maybe a waterfront restaurant, to Riverfront Park. His larger goal is to make the Hillsborough River the center of downtown Tampa, not its western edge. If the city pursued that idea, Riverfront would become the third city park, along with Water Works Park and Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, where Buckhorn’s administration has tried to bring a restaurant to a city park on the river. “When you think about it, we have very few waterfront dining options,” Buckhorn said at the time. “That’s got to change.”

Buckhorn put $2.5 million in the city budget for work on the park in the coming year, and nearly $9.3 million in capital improvement spending on the park over the next four years. Still, he says that money is a placeholder for a detailed plan that hasn’t been written yet. He also has said he has to figure out whether a restaurant at the park “even makes sense.” During a discussion with the council, City Chief of Staff, Santiago Corrada, said the other planning discussions by the Housing Authority, the Urban Land Institute and the InVision Tampa – may talk about the park indirectly, but there is no planning under way to redevelop the park. “I think everyone needs to take a step back and wait to see what actual real plans are proposed from the city rather than jumping to conclusions about what will be there,” City Council member Lisa Montelione said.

By Richard Danielson

Times Staff Writer
In Print: Friday, November 2, 2012