Tampa unveils plans for Julian B Lane Park renovation

By Keith Morelli, Tribune Staff  Published: September 9, 2014

Artist rendering of proposed promenade along the river.

Artist rendering of proposed promenade along the river.

TAMPA – Susan Lane stopped by to hear and see first hand the renovations planned for Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park, tucked onto the west bank of the Hillsborough River between Tampa Preparatory School and the Laurel Street Bridge.She had not been invited by city officials. If they had known she would be there, they may have asked her to say a few words.

Her father was Julian B. Lane, Tampa’s mayor from 1959 to 1963, who was instrumental in fighting segregation and went on to become a state lawmaker. The park named for him was built nearly 40 years ago, and Susan Lane had never walked through it before. “I’ve never walked to the river,” she said. Besides being mayor, long before the park was built and dedicated to him in 1977, her father was captain of the Hillsborough High School football team, which played an annual Thanksgiving game at Phillips Field, the municipal stadium then on the Tampa Prep site. “He would have been really pleased,” she said, after looking over the proposed design. “We all are proud of this.”

The concept came out of a series of meetings with community leaders and residents living close to the park, including North Boulevard Homes across the street, said Mark Johnson, with Civitas, the urban design and landscaping team hired by the city to mold the park. “We didn’t start with an idea,” he said. The idea came after meeting with more than 300 people who dished out their own ideas. “It was refined again and again, based on people’s feedback.”

The most prominent need: a “great lawn,” where picnics can be held along the riverfront, he said. “That’s a big deal here,” he said, more so than in other cities where the Denver-based Civitas has designed parks. There will be more, he said. A boathouse will store not only the Stewards Foundation, which offers rowing programs for children and teens and hosts crew competitions each year, but other organizations as well. There will be kayaks, canoes, paddleboards and even dragon boats stored in the boathouse. On the second floor will be a community center, Johnson said.

Now, there are mounds throughout the park, including one in which a small amphitheater sits. That will be torn down, along with some of the hills, so that the river can be seen from the west end of the park, Johnson said. There will be renovated parking and a water park for children. Basketball, tennis and beach volleyball courts will be renovated, and two stages for public events are planned. Walkways will adorn the park so people can stroll along the river and beneath the old live oaks.

“First and foremost,” Johnson said, “people wanted access to the river.” Mayor Bob Buckhorn said the surrounding communities have offered input that the designers paid attention.”This pays homage to the neighborhoods,” he said. “We included the communities in this. They’ve been involved. This is like no other project I’ve been involved with during my 25 years with the city.”

The park is part of Buckhorn’s plan for 150 acres of largely public riverfront land just north of Interstate 275, which city officials refer to as the “west bank.” Eventually, the mayor said, the west side of the river between Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park and Rick’s on the River restaurant to the north will be accessible to the public.”It’s not inexpensive,” he said, “but I think it’s worth doing.”

Buckhorn said $8 million is in the budget to start the project, which he wants completed within five years. He said it will cost a lot more than that but wouldn’t venture a guess. He said the city is looking at ways to offset costs, like boathouse naming rights or other private-sector sources of revenue. “To put it in perspective, Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park is five acres and that cost $20 million,” he said. “This park is 25 acres. This will cost a significant sum of money. “But this is a worthwhile investment,” he said. “It will pay dividends for years to come.”