TAMPA — Forty years ago, the idea of building a park along the Hillsborough River first took root among Tampa politicians. Six mayors and $33 million later, the plan finally came to fruition.
Mayor Bob Buckhorn officially opened the final segment of the 2.6-mile Riverwalk on Saturday morning, welcoming the public to the final piece of a complex that runs from Channelside to Water Works Park.
About 200 people attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony on Saturday for the Cass Street Cycle Track.
Children scooted along on skateboards under the Laurel Street Bridge and the scent of fish from the river was overpowered by the smell of empanadas from a local food truck.
The track, which city officials say is the first of its kind in Florida, has two paths and protects cyclists and pedestrians from road traffic.
"This river will be the center of everything that we do," Buckhorn said. "We're not done yet."
Buckhorn thanked City Council members for their support of the project. He pointed across the river to a 23-acre plot of land and said the park there will undergo a dramatic makeover soon. Last month, city officials approved a $33.5 million plan to overhaul Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park. It will include a number of amenities, like a community room, a large shaded deck, a public dock, playgrounds and even a stop for a water taxi.
The project is expected to take 18 months to complete and should be open in the fall of 2017.
First conceived by Mayor Bill Poe in 1975, the Riverwalk became one of the most important pieces of Buckhorn's time in office.
A Democrat, he seemed elated at the turnout for the ribbon cutting and smiled as he took a subtle jab at presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, who held a rally Saturday not far from the cycle track.
"I'd rather build a Riverwalk than talk about building a wall," Buckhorn said.
Josh Young rides the trail to work every day at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts and his family, including daughters Penny and Genevieve, use it each weekend. For families like the Youngs, the cycle track is a welcome addition, a safe place to ride and exercise.
Cyclists clapped and whistled as Buckhorn grabbed a pair of golden scissors to cut a golden silk ribbon. He invited the attendees to gather around him for a picture as he attempted to tear the silk with the dull scissors.
Genevieve Young, 11, tried to get in the picture but shyly backed away.
"Come here," Buckhorn said, inviting her to the group photo.
Genevieve swooped over the ribbon but looked back for her 9-year-old sister, Penny Young.
"Is that your sister?" he asked.
"Go bring her too," Buckhorn said.
"Penny!" she shouted.
And the sisters were together as the ribbon was sliced.
Contact Ariana Figueroa at [email protected] or (813) 226-3350. Follow @ArianaLFigueroa.