Tampa does not get legislative appropriation for Riverfront Park
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s ambitious $35 million redevelopment of Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park will have to proceed without money from the state.
Buckhorn had lobbied Tallahassee for $5 million, but the Legislature’s $80 billion proposed budget, which was finished Monday night, does not include the money.
“Our local delegation was amazingly supportive,” Buckhorn said Tuesday, “but sometimes in these sessions where there is a limited amount of money you don’t always end up at the top of the priority list ... I recognized that it was going to be a tough sell. It doesn’t fit into the traditional boxes for appropriations.”
Still, Buckhorn says the 23-acre project — something he sees as a legacy to the city — will go forward.
To pay for the project, Buckhorn hopes to use no more than $15 million of the $20 million the city got in a settlement with BP over lost tourism following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. In addition, this year’s city budget includes $5 million for the park. Buckhorn said the rest probably will come from revenues 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.
City plans for the new park include a 16,250 square-foot “river center” with a boathouse on its ground floor, a large event lawn, a splash play area for kids, a dog park, an expanded playground, bigger athletic fields and sand volleyball courts.
Skanska, which won a design-build contract from the city about a year ago, is working on construction drawings. Once those are done, which Buckhorn hopes will be in the spring or early summer, the city will negotiate a guaranteed maximum price for the project.
In January, Buckhorn said the city was seeking money from Amendment 1 revenues appropriated through a Florida Communities Trust grant program.
In 2014, 75 percent of state voters who cast ballots approved the constitutional amendment to set aside a third of the tax on real estate documents for land purchases, restoration and conservation. While Buckhorn said development of Riverfront Park was a worthy and sensible use of the money, leaders with the Tampa Bay chapter of the Sierra Club said it was not consistent with the intent of Amendment 1.
As the session went on, Buckhorn said he would be open to either Amendment 1 funds or a general line-item appropriation in the state budget.
While not getting money for Riverfront Park was a disappointment, Tampa officials did see their top priority for the legislative session get the full appropriation they sought. That was the $22.5 million requested for the University of South Florida’s downtown medical school building in the redevelopment district being planned by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Cascade Investment.
“That was big,” Buckhorn said. “With the exception of Julian B. Lane, I thought it was a great session.”