TAMPA — The emerging plan for the makeover of Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park includes a two-story "river center" with something upstairs for neighbors and downstairs for rowing crews and dragon boat teams.
The top floor of the river center could include a community room, park planners told residents Tuesday night at Blake High School. Because the park generally slopes down to the river, visitors could park on the high ground near Laurel Street and walk right into the second floor.
A bit farther downhill, the bottom floor of the building could open to the river itself, giving rowers and paddlers easy access to a set of public, floating docks.
Planners say the boathouse would be big enough to store all 100 rowing shells now housed by the nonprofit Stewards Foundation at its current facility at the park, plus dragon boats now stored at Rick's on the River, rental canoes, kayaks or paddleboards.
"It's a big facility," said Mark Johnson, president of the Denver-based Civitas planning and consulting firm, which is helping the city narrow ideas for the 23-acre park. And the various groups would be tenants at the city's building, he said.
Mayor Bob Buckhorn has plans for a redevelopment costing up to $8 million at Riverfront Park, which is on the west bank of the Hillsborough River, next to N Boulevard.
The draft concept plan presented Tuesday night also includes a history walk with gardens and markers highlighting the area, a neighborhood once known as Roberts City.
"People want this to be a park for the community," Johnson said, and "about them, not about somebody else."
In response, several West Tampa residents said the Civitas team had listened. Several also offered names they said deserve historic recognition.
One was the old Phillips Field, the football field open for black high school games during segregation.
The other was the former slave known as Madame Fortune Taylor, who received the title to 33 riverfront acres on the east side of the river in 1875. At one time, the Laurel Street Bridge was called the Fortune Street Bridge in her honor.
At the last meeting on June 10, the crowd of more than 200 turned in 184 comment cards. Not everyone commented on every idea, but 57 percent of those who did favored a park design with the river center. And the 100 or so people who commented on having a public boathouse favored it 6-to-1.
Tuesday night, however, several speakers touched on a clear theme about the river center. If it's built, they said, the facility needs to be public, not something controlled or monopolized by private organizations like the University of Tampa, Tampa Prep or the Stewards Foundation.
"Until we see it in writing that it really is going to be a public building, nobody's going to believe it, and it's going to kill the plan," community activist Pete Edwards said.
On Wednesday, Buckhorn said he was aware of the neighborhood's sentiment. In a new river center, he said, an organization such as the Stewards Foundation would be a tenant of the building, and the city would be the landlord.
"Whatever we build there, including and specifically, whatever aquatics facility is built, will be owned by the city and will be run by the city," Buckhorn said. "Part of what we are attempting to do is open up the river on the west bank to the public."
As expected, the draft plan calls for flattening the park's large mounds to make way for a "great lawn" with views that look across the river toward downtown Tampa.
The Boys & Girls Club would stay, and the plan includes tennis and basketball courts, a large athletic field, playground, splash pad, a dog park and a realignment of Laurel Street to the north to make more room for parking.
Tuesday's was the third of four community meetings to create a plan for the park. The fourth is scheduled for Sept. 9.
Buckhorn, who was not at the meeting, said he wants to hear what residents think, but so far he likes what he's seen of the plan.
"I think activating that waterfront, enhancing the rowing experience and the dragon boat experience is a good thing," he said. "And it seems as though, based on the comments that we've gotten, the majority of people who have attended seem to think the same thing."