Just in time for the Republican National Convention, Tampa will light up four downtown bridges spanning the Hillsborough River.
And when the convention leaves, the art will stay.
The bridges and the river below will remain lit at night, every night, permanently.
"This will be a signature project for the city," Mayor Bob Buckhorn said at a news conference Tuesday on the Riverwalk at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park. "This waterfront that we're standing on today is probably the best natural asset that we have."
The city will illuminate the Platt Street bridge, Brorein Street bridge, Kennedy Boulevard bridge and either the CSX railroad bridge or the Cass Street bridge through its Lights on Tampa public arts program.
The city is hiring artist Tracey Dear, who illuminated the bridges in Chicago, as well as the Wrigley Building there, to do the project, called Agua Luces, Spanish for water lights.
Tampa Electric and Peoples Gas are contributing more than $300,000 to cover the costs.
"When the mayor asked us to participate in this project, I can tell you, we didn't have to think about it for very long," Tampa Electric and Peoples Gas president Gordon Gillette said.
The four bridges are expected to be illuminated by mid-summer, before the convention on Aug. 27-30.
"The RNC is a great opportunity for us to highlight Tampa and put it in the national spotlight, and it's going to be great to see our bridges in spotlights as well," Gillette said.
Dear, 46, said he looks forward to coming to Tampa, probably next month, to work on the design.
He said he does not yet have a color palette in mind.
In Chicago, he said the bridges he illuminated were so close together that he took a big-picture approach to lighting them.
"I think these bridges are spaced far enough apart that they can stand on their own," he said.
Whatever the final design, Dear said he hopes to see the same thing happen in Tampa as in Chicago, where the river walk had been seldom used except by homeless people.
"I think that lighting the bridges is an important part of a river walk project," he said. "When I lit the Chicago bridges back in 1999, it led to a huge transformation in the way the river was used. All of a sudden people flocked to the river."
Dear and Buckhorn said they do not expect that the graffiti painted on Tampa's bridges by visiting college rowing teams would need to be painted over to do the project.
With additional private funding, the city hopes to extend the project to all eight downtown bridges over the river, as well as part of the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway, by 2014.
Using government grants and private sector funding, the city created Lights on Tampa in 2006 to raise awareness of public art.
Since then, the program has presented three illuminated installations, last in February. Along with way, the program has drawn thousands of people downtown to reflect on and celebrate public art outdoors.
Dear was selected through a juried process for the original Lights on Tampa in 2006, but his idea did not come to fruition. Buckhorn revived it after coming into office in April, and approached Tampa Electric for help.
Blannie Whelan, an advanced registered nurse practitioner who lives downtown, was walking her Jack Russell terrier, Scrappy, in the park when she came upon the news conference announcing the project.
She was delighted.
"I actually had written (then-Mayor) Pam Iorio about this a few years ago and how wonderful it would be," Whelan said, comparing cities with illuminated bridges with Paris, where couples often set out to cross every bridge over the Seine, stopping to kiss in the middle of each span. "It's one of the most romantic things."
Richard Danielson can be reached at [email protected], (813) 226-3403 or @Danielson_Times on Twitter.