Proposed price for Tampa’s Riverfront Park: $35.5 million
TAMPA — The proposed price tag for Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s ambitious makeover of Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park has been set.
It’s a little under $35.5 million.
“I recognize it’s a big number,” Buckhorn said in an interview. “The biggest park project we’ve ever undertaken.”
A guaranteed maximum price contract with Skanska USA Building, which won a design-build contract with the city, is scheduled to go the City Council on Thursday. If approved, Buckhorn said, an expected 18 months of construction could start soon after, with the new park opening in the fall of 2017. The city and contractor have set a goal of using small businesses or women- or minority-owned subcontractors for 19 percent of the work.
Buckhorn has about $4.2 million in Community Investment Tax money allocated in this year’s budget for the park. In addition, he plans to use about $15 million of the $20 million that the city won in the settlement of its lawsuit against BP over losses to tourism from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
The rest of the money needed will come from the Community Investment Tax, a voter-approved half-cent added to Hillsborough County's sales tax to pay for schools, roads and other projects, including Raymond James Stadium.
"I'm excited that they're able to go forward with that project" said City Council member Frank Reddick, who represents West Tampa and who grew up playing basketball and tennis at Riverfront Park. For the money, he said, "it better turn out to be a beautiful facility."
Buckhorn's top administrators have been meeting with council members as much to explain how the project will be paid for as anything.
"I don't have a problem with the park itself," City Council chairman Mike Suarez said. I"m wondering if this is the best use of BP dollars. That's something I'm wrestling with."
While it’s a lot of money, Buckhorn notes that Riverfront Park, at 23 acres, is much bigger than Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, where improvements seven years ago ended up costing $15.7 million.
When Buckhorn came to office, there was a plan in place to upgrade Riverfront Park with new softball fields and some other modest improvements.
“We’re basically scraping 20-plus acres and rebuilding it,” he said. That includes flattening out the large earthen mounds that were included as part of the original park in the 1970s.
When finished, Riverfront Park is planned to include:
• A new river center and boat house, with a community event room, large shaded deck facing the river, space for rowing shell and dragon boat storage, public dock, rentals for things like paddle boards, a riverfront promenade and a sheltered cove where newcomers can practice without having to worry about waves. Currently, rowers stow their gear in several old shipping containers at the park.
• A great lawn with views of the river for events like art shows and concerts, plus a smaller pavilion for performances and shaded seating.
• A family picnic area, splash pad for children, fenced children’s play area, a dog park, a water taxi stop and restrooms.
• Tennis, basketball and pickleball courts, a lighted, synthetic-turf athletic field with bleachers for soccer, football and lacrosse and a realignment of Laurel Street to create more room for the park.
Earlier this year, Buckhorn unsuccessfully sought $5 million from the Legislature, and discussed the idea of trying to get land preservation funds generated by Amendment 1, for Riverfront Park. Still, he said not getting any state funds wouldn’t stop the city from moving forward with Riverfront Park construction.
“If we hadn’t gotten the BP money, this would have been a tough project to justify and to do,” he said. “But I think it’s well worth the investment.”
There are two reasons that justify the expense, Buckhorn said. First, he expects the park to stimulate private investment in West Tampa, just as the Riverwalk, Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park and Water Works Park have done.
“There has never been an investment of this magnitude in the West Tampa area,” he said.
More specifically, he expects Riverfront Park to be “an important anchor” in the redevelopment of 120 acres that city officials are calling the West River area. It now includes Riverfront Park, a city truck and equipment yard and the Tampa Housing Authority’s oldest public housing complex, North Boulevard Homes.
But the city is moving the trucks with plans to sell the land for apartment development. And North Boulevard Homes is expected to be demolished and rebuilt as a more walkable neighborhood with a mix of subsidized housing and apartments or homes that sell or rent on the open market.
“I’ve been saying from day one that this was going to be a pretty massive undertaking, but that it was a piece of a much larger mosaic,” Buckhorn said. “If we’re going to make West River work, then we have to make some public investments. … Yeah, it’s a stretch for the city, but I knew if we were willing to do it and if we are willing to make that investment, it would change that area forever. Forever.”