Tampa Riverwalk: the West Side Story

January 2019 – With six mayors in the making, the Tampa Riverwalk was completed under Mayor Buckhorn’s leadership with the last section from the Straz Center to WaterWorks Park (a Planning Commission 34th Annual Planning & Design Award of Outstanding Contribution to the Community winner). The Tampa Riverwalk is a 15-foot wide (or more) walkway along the east side of the Hillsborough River from the North Boulevard Bridge south to the Tampa Convention Center and continuing along the north side of the Garrison Channel to the Channelside area. The 2.4-mile stretch has 24 segments with various features, including some over the water.

Tampa is already planning and building additional amenities to enhance public enjoyment of the Hillsborough River corridor. At its September meeting, the Technical Advisory Council to the Hillsborough River Interlocal Planning Board received an update from Randy Goers, City of Tampa planning staff, regarding development of a West Riverwalk on the west side of the Hillsborough River in the downtown corridor.

The west bank of the Hillsborough River was once the center of a cigar factory community known as Roberts City. In 1909, it was a diverse, working-class neighborhood, home to hundreds of families including Italians, Cubans, African Americans, and Bahamians. By 1960 the cigar factories were gone, the residents had moved on, an interstate divided the community, and the buildings were demolished. Funded by urban renewal dollars, Riverfront Park opened in 1977 on twenty-five acres of the former Roberts City. Initially a success, the neighborhood began to change in the eighties, as did the use of the park. By 2010, it had fallen into disrepair and misuse.

The West River Master Plan was created as a collaboration among the City of Tampa, Tampa Housing Authority, and local stakeholders to create more livable housing choices at all levels of affordability, improve streets, and increase access to the River. A key component of the 2012 InVision Tampa plan was the redevelopment of Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park as part of a bigger plan to revitalize the West Tampa area, with the Hillsborough River identified as the centerpiece of Downtown Tampa.

Known now as a park for everyone, the new Julian B Lane Riverfront Park (a Planning Commission 36th Annual Planning & Design Award of Excellence winner) boasts a plethora of passive and active recreational features; an infusion of art, historical, and cultural amenities; the River Center community center and boathouse; and a West Riverwalk connection under the Madame Fortune Taylor Bridge. Tampa took great care to include care for the environment and providing easy access to the Hillsborough River for park-goers and this West Tampa neighborhood. We are looking forward to ongoing West Riverwalk development of this waterfront jewel for our community.

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