TAMPA — The City Council on Thursday approved an $8.8 million contract to build a long-desired but expensive-to-build part of the Riverwalk.
The work, to be paid for with a $10.9 million federal transportation grant, will create an over-the-water promenade going north from MacDill Park, under the Kennedy Boulevard bridge to Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park.
Construction is expected to start in early June and be finished by Thanksgiving 2014. When the job is done, the city will have a continuous 1.8-mile waterfront trail from the Channel District, around the Tampa Convention Center and north to the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts.
"This may be one of the most consequential things that this city has accomplished in a generation," council member Harry Cohen said before the vote. "It's really a tremendous day for downtown."
And there's more to come. Another section going north from the Straz center to Water Works Park is heading into design, and construction should start in the spring of 2014. Officials estimate it will take nine to 12 months to build.
"At the end of that, you'll have 2½ miles of uninterrupted Riverwalk, which will be spectacular," Mayor Bob Buckhorn said recently.
Still, the 1,460-foot-long Kennedy bridge section is a challenge to build because the Sheraton Tampa Riverwalk Hotel and neighboring properties are built out to the seawall. That means the Riverwalk must be built on concrete pilings. It will have a concrete deck with benches and structures to provide shade.
Johnson Bros. Corp. of Lithia submitted the lowest of six bids for the contract. The highest bid topped $10.1 million.
Johnson Bros. built the section of the Riverwalk that goes under the Brorein Street bridge, so it has experience on a similar project.
"We're very confident in their ability to move forward," said David Vaughn, the city's director of contract administration.
In other business, the council approved:
• A $2.25 million contract to Pillar Construction Group of Clermont to renovate the Roy Jenkins Pool, which has been closed since the end of the 2008 summer season. Last year, Davis Islands residents agreed to chip in $500,000 from the Davis Islands Park Improvement Fund toward repairs on the 84-year-old pool. Eight companies bid on the project. Pillar's bid was third-lowest, but city officials rejected the two lowest bids because they lacked required information. Construction is expected to start in late May and be complete next spring.
• A ban on the sale of bath salts and synthetic marijuana inside the city limits. Once the mayor signs the ordinance, violations can be punished by a fine up to $500, 60 days in jail or both. Hillsborough County enacted a similar ban in February.
• A contract with Tampa-based AVI-SPL to be the Tampa Convention Center's in-house provider of sound systems, digital signs, technical personnel and video players, projectors, monitors and screens. Five-Star Audiovisual Management of Aurora, Ill., west of Chicago, has held the contract since 1996 and complained that city officials gave AVI an unfair edge during the bidding process. City officials deny the allegation. In recent years, the contract has been worth more than $300,000 annually to Five-Star and more than $200,000 a year to the city.
• A 10-year contract with CycleHop of Miami Beach to create a bike rental program with 300 rent-a-bikes and 450 bike racks at 30 service kiosks in or near downtown. The program will not cost the city anything, but Tampa officials are letting the company place its bikes, racks and service kiosks on public right of way, as well as sell advertising on the bikes.
• Four agreements so that the Florida Department of Transportation can reimburse the city a total of $400,000 to design pedestrian and cycling improvements along Bougainvillea Avenue, Cypress Street, Palm Avenue and Willow Avenue. On Palm, for example, what is now a four-lane undivided road will be transformed into a two-lane divided road with bike lanes from N Boulevard to Nebraska Avenue.
"We are still No. 2 in the entire nation for pedestrian and bicycle deaths," council member Lisa Montelione said. "These items, with the funding from the Florida Department of Transportation, are a very big step forward to address … the dire situation that we have in the city of Tampa and in greater Hillsborough County."
Richard Danielson can be reached at Danielson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3403.