When I first walked around downtown Tampa years back, I'm not sure I knew a river runs through it.
But it's true: An actual river, the Hillsborough, marks downtown's western border.
And over the years, different mayors have made their own assessments of that waterfront's value, from Dealin' Dick Greco to Pragmatic Pam Iorio to the current office holder, Bob the Builder Buckhorn. Now developers want to pay the city $4 million for a tight piece of riverfront property where they can put an up-to-35-story tower with 350 apartments. And, no.
Say it ain't so.
"Pretty" may be a stretch in describing the river you can currently walk along on the nearly completed Riverwalk, water you can gaze across from sprawling Curtis Hixon Park.
But you have to at least admit to interesting, with the University of Tampa minarets as a backdrop, the rowers on the river, the historic bridges. (Gulls, even.) And Tampa is starting to look like a town with some urban planning to it instead of coming about like those clumps of mushrooms that spring up randomly here and there on your lawn overnight.
Interesting mayoral moment regarding the riverfront: In 2003, on maybe her second day in office, Iorio found herself looking at documents brought to her so she could sign off on plans for a 25-story residential tower by the river. (Land not far from the current patch under consideration.)
The project came about during her predecessor Greco's term, only somehow the papers hadn't gotten signed by him before he left.
Iorio, who has her own views on what downtown should look like, said then, "We need to be careful how we plan public spaces, because it's forever," and declined to sign. It did not get built. That sprawling city park on the water did, though, and is one of her legacies.
So now developers are eyeing a wedge of city property behind the public library at Tyler and Cass streets on the north end of downtown. Developers interested in building is a good thing. A thriving urban core with more residents is a good thing. Me, I am glad every time I see a dog on a leash downtown, because it means people actually live here.
But downtown also has building options that would not mean a tall tower on a tight space on the pretty-or-at-least-interesting river that the public has lately come to enjoy.
The current mayor has his own Buckhornian ideas for shaping the city and riverfront. And being the mayor who made it happen despite a dismal economy would be a fine legacy, too.
He has smartly vowed to make the waterfront a focus of downtown urban planning, and already he is walking the walk, pushing for restaurants near the water and for events like the St. Patrick's Day River O' Green. He is talking of ways to open up the quieter park just across the river.
The possibility of a new tower? "That's city property," Bob the Builder has said, "and we're not going to move on it until we're comfortable and may decide not to do it at all."
Good to hear at least a note of caution in there that sounds like actual urban planning, even in Tampa. Because we need to watch out for our waterfront, particularly now that we can see it for ourselves.