TAMPA — With just a few benches, some trees and a view of Tampa Bay, AIDS Memorial Park was meant to be a quiet, reflective space.
Tucked onto a small plot of land at Bayshore Boulevard and Hyde Park Place, it offered no facilities, services or even parking.
Now, roaring with construction noises and filled with vehicles, the city park has become a parking lot — at least temporarily.
Closed since October while construction is under way on the nearby Crescent Bayshore — a new 367-apartment community — the park is being used as a parking lot by developer Crescent Communities.
It's a deal the developer, which built the park and maintains it, struck with the city of Tampa last year. When construction is completed this fall, Crescent Communities will build an improved park.
But not everyone is on board with the idea.
Lynda Smith lives nearby and was present at the park's grand opening in 2005. She thinks turning a memorial park into a parking lot, even temporarily, is disrespectful.
"How can you dedicate a park to something, especially something that is a memorial park, then turn around and use it as a parking lot because the developer needs parking?" Smith said. "To me, it violates the whole nature of the park. If this were a veterans park, people would be up in arms about it."
Smith remembers the controversy that stalled plans for the park in the first place.
When the city set aside the site for the park in 1998, a few City Council members bristled at the idea of naming a park after a disease, even though a park dedicated to the fight against cancer was going up in Al Lopez Park.
A lack of funding hampered efforts for years.
The park opened in 2005, after Crescent Communities agreed to build and maintain the park as part of a development deal during construction of One Bayshore.
A similar deal was struck last year for construction of Crescent Bayshore.
"They needed the site for staging for the construction and they had built the park originally and maintained it," said Tampa parks and recreation director Greg Bayor.
The park had also become a hotbed for police activity lately, Bayor said. "It's a good opportunity to have the park rebuilt at their cost."
The city, along with Crescent Communities, will hold public meetings to discuss plans for the park this fall.
"We will use this opportunity to work with the city to evaluate the design and ensure the park provides space that's functional and serves as an active amenity for the neighborhood and the Tampa community," said Heather Tamol, a spokeswoman for Crescent Communities.
Smith said she didn't spend much time in the park, but did stop by occasionally when walking in the area. It had become a popular spot for homeless people, she said, but she still didn't want to see it destroyed.
"I feel like we are being snowballed," Smith said. "I feel like they are going to turn it into a parking lot."
Shelley Rossetter can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3401.