Children splashed in fountains, families picnicked on the sloping grand lawn, fathers kicked soccer balls with their children and dogs frolicked in a play area all their own at the grand opening of Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park on Sunday. They came by boat and by bike. They came from Citrus Park and condo towers across the street.
"This is a beautiful day for our city," said a jubilant Mayor Pam Iorio before the ribbon-cutting. "I don't think I've ever been happier as mayor."
The city's $43.6 million price tag for the park included $15.7 million for the park grounds, $1.5 million to replace the Hillsborough River sea wall, and $18.6 million to help build the Tampa Museum of Art, which has its grand opening Feb. 6.
"There is no doubt we are in terrible economic times. But in the worst of times we built the best of assets for generations to come," she said.
Sandra Mestas, 26, was among about 1,000 people who celebrated the park's opening.
She and her husband, Matt Danskin, and two children got to the riverfront location about three blocks north of Kennedy Boulevard by boat.
"That playground over there is the coolest thing ever," Danskin said.
Belinda Richard, 37, sat under a tree with her two young children. She said she expects to regularly make the drive from their home in Citrus Park.
"Why not? We come to the aquarium," she said. The park, which also holds the Children's Museum scheduled to open in the fall, will allow them to turn those visits to downtown into a full day.
Matt Willis, 26, said he has watched the park being built for the past two years from his condo on the 21st story of Skypoint.
He and his friend A.J. Utz brought their dog Brady for an up-close look.
"We're excited to have a park for the dog and the entertainment this is going to bring to downtown," Willis said.
Ruth Paul, 71, stood along a newly completed portion of the Riverwalk that was also part of the remake of the old Curtis Hixon park and admired the view of the University of Tampa minarets across the water.
Paul lives in Cincinnati, and happened to be in town visiting her son.
"That museum is just beautiful," she said, with a glance toward the modern exterior of the Tampa Museum of Art. "I wish Cincinnati would shape up and build something on their river. We don't have anything like this."
Paul said she was particularly struck by the connectivity between the Riverwalk, park, museums and downtown restaurants.
"This is such a wonderful family place," she said. "It's all here at your fingertips."
Jason Downey, 30, rode his bike from Bayshore to Curtis Hixon. When asked if he thought the final product was worth the multimillion-dollar price tag, he said: "Any park is worth the money."
Not everyone was pleased with their experience, though. During the park's first day open to the public, police officers had their first confrontation with skateboarders, pressuring a group of fewer than a dozen to leave the festivities.
The confrontation occurred just after Iorio was telling the crowd: "This park is for everyone."
"Except for skateboarders!" hollered 26-year-old Seamus Gallagher.
"Except for skateboarders," echoed Iorio.
"That's discriminatory," said 25-year-old Elisha Bond after she walked out of the park, skateboard in hand. "We were all excited. Had a couple mimosas, were going to skate the park."
And what's a skateboarder's take on the park?
"It's shreddable," she said.
Janet Zink can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3401.