Downtown Tampa's new waterfront park debuts Sunday

TAMPA — The roar of pressure washers cut through the air as crews scrambled to clean away dirt and debris to reveal the reward of more than 18 months of physical labor.

City officials won't be the only ones beaming with pride at Sunday's grand opening of the Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park.

The hard hats are proud too.

Throughout the week, electricians put final touches on lights overlooking the fountains, crews fixed out-of-place pavers and landscapers trimmed tree branches. Workers also spray-painted the lawn green in defiance of winter.

"I just walk around and marvel at the changes everyday, to see everything come together is amazing," said Rick Lee, a superintendent who got his jeans dusty with last minute fixes.

The 8-acre park, designed by Thomas Balsley and Associates of New York, is the first of three projects debuting downtown this year. It features two interactive fountains, a children's playground, terraced lawn, dog run, bathrooms and a revitalized portion of the Riverwalk.

Next up is the Tampa Museum of Art, opening Feb. 6, and then the Glazer Children's Museum in late summer.

Workers at the Children's Museum are still in the thick of construction.

"I go home and tell my wife all about the crazy things I am working on," said Jose Bautista, a framer and drywaller working on the museum.

There's a ceiling shaped like a wave, and a column that is asymmetrical, both new tricks for Bautista.

In the bathrooms, workers on Wednesday laid glass tiles meant to simulate the flow of water from the drain to the floor, something tile foreman Mitch Robertson considered a welcome challenge.

"I like these types of jobs; they test your skills. The layouts are complicated; you're using different materials, and it takes a lot to make it work," he said.

The building's design is the result of an architectural collaboration between GouldEvans, the firm that designed the University of South Florida's Marshall Center, and HaizLip Studios, a firm that specializes in children's museums, and is being built by J.O. DeLotto and Sons.

Over at the Tampa Museum of Art, designed by California architect Stanley Saitowitz, the dust has cleared and finishing touches include the installation of priceless art.

It's precision work, hard-hatted Lee found out.

"I learned about how light affects art, how heat affects art, how humidity affects art," he said. "I even learned how the touch of a finger can affect art."

Lee, a senior superintendent for Skanska, the company overseeing the construction of the park and Tampa Museum of Art, worked on the project from day one, replacing a crumbling museum with modern architecture.

Crews at all three sites said they are proud to have a part of something so important to the city.

"Everyone who worked on these projects put more of an emphasis on quality of work because these are places they will be bringing their families and children to and saying, 'I worked on that,' " said Chuck Jablon, a vice president on the project for Skanska.

Bautista said he will be excited when his kids get to see his efforts at the children's museum.

"I am definitely planning to bring them here," he said. "It feels good to know you had something to do with their fun."

On Thursday, electrician Richard Kuzma pointed proudly to the LED-lighted tiles in the park's fountain areas, in part his handiwork.

Watching the project evolve in his eight months on site left him marveling.

"Just seeing it come from the dirt phase to this type of quality is really invigorating," he said.

With the walkways dust-free and the grass a perfect shade of green, the hard hats will fade into the background until the next reveal is ready.

Shelley Rossetter can be reached at (813) 226-3374 or srossetter@sptimes.com.

If you go

The grand opening of Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park is 1:30 p.m. Sunday with a dedication ceremony by Mayor Pam Iorio at 2 p.m. The public is invited to bring blankets and lawn chairs and join the celebration. The park is between Ashley Drive and the Hillsborough River, three blocks north of Kennedy Boulevard in downtown Tampa.

Fast facts

The city's bill

$43.6 million: City of Tampa's contribution to the park and museum project, including:

$18.6 million: To help build the Tampa Museum of Art

$15.7 million: To build the park

$4.8 million: To improve Kiley Gardens and underground parking garage

$1.5 million: To replace the Hillsborough River sea wall

$1 million: To improve Gasparilla Drive

Downtown Tampa's new waterfront park debuts Sunday 01/22/10 [Last modified: Saturday, January 23, 2010 12:40am]

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