TAMPA — The Republican National Convention will bring a record number of television cameras to town, but is Tampa ready for its close-up?
No, says City Council member Harry Cohen.
"The most likely scenario is that every major national news broadcast is going to be broadcast from Bayshore Boulevard during the last week of August," he says.
But after months of various road projects to improve parts of Bayshore and the Platt Street bridge, Cohen calls the boulevard "a patchwork quilt of all different levels, colors and various grades," with weeds poking through gaps in the pavement.
Bayshore is better than it was, he says, but not what it should be.
"I am frustrated that this city asset is not going to be able to put its best foot forward when the eyes of the world are upon us," Cohen says.
Not only that, he says, Tampa's dilapidated and nearly vacant municipal marina further detracts from Bayshore's appeal.
Don't worry, says Mayor Bob Buckhorn.
By the time the convention is gaveled to order on Aug. 27, he expects Tampa will have completed one and maybe two projects to make Bayshore more pretty — or, in the marina's case, less ugly.
"We will have our prom dress on, lipstick affixed, and we will be ready for the show," Buckhorn said Friday. "We'll be like Cinderella at the dance."
After the annual Gasparilla pirate invasion later this month, the city plans to add landscaping and irrigation to new grassy medians recently installed along the northern end of Bayshore.
For whatever reason, landscaping and sprinklers were not included when the city began a $1.5 million project to add bike lanes and make other changes to Bayshore north of Rome Avenue.
But Buckhorn said he had his staff put together a landscaping plan when he took office in April. Now the city is lining up contractors for the work. He said he told staff he didn't want just palms, but trees and plants that would bloom with color.
"I wanted the Bayshore to pop," he said. "I want people to recognize that when they are on Bayshore, they are on Tampa's crown scenic boulevard."
Buckhorn also would like to see a developer replace the old city marina on Bayshore with privately managed boat slips.
Like mayors before him, Buckhorn says the virtually empty 36-slip marina is a dangerous eyesore, with split and weathered pilings, a rusty security fence and cracked, crooked sidewalks.
But when City Hall put out a request for redevelopment proposals last fall, no one responded.
The mayor said the city continues to talk to local companies to see if anyone has any interest in taking on the marina.
If they don't, Buckhorn said the city might remove the marina itself before the convention. His staff has checked, and the city has the permits it needs for demolition.
"One way or another, there's going to be some changes before August," he said.
Less clear is what might be done about Bayshore's road surface.
North of Rome Avenue, the boulevard is paved with concrete slabs that can give drivers an annoying bump-bump, bump-bump at the seams. South of Rome, the road surface is asphalt, but it has been put down at different times, and it shows.
While Bayshore lies in the city, it is a county road, and Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandra Murman brought it up this week at a Metropolitan Planning Organization meeting.
"I just believe that repaving will solve the issue," Murman said. Repaving the entire length of the boulevard would cost an estimated $1.2 million.
But paving over those concrete slabs north of Rome would not be a good idea, said Steve Daignault, Tampa's public works and utilities administrator.
For one thing, the concrete will last 100 years. Asphalt needs to be replaced approximately every 10 to 15 years.
Put asphalt on top of the concrete, and the gaps between the slabs will soon work their way up to the new surface, he said.
Taking out the slabs isn't an option, either. That part of Bayshore is bridged over an old creek bed, some stormwater pipes and other soft areas, so it must be sturdy.
Paint is not an option, but the city could put a sealer over the concrete.
"You would have perhaps a more even, finished look," Daignault said, "but over time, with cars running on it, it will become rutted."
The City Council plans to discuss the road again on Jan. 19. Council member Yvonne Yolie Capin suggests using fines from Tampa's new red-light cameras, which are currently on a pace to generate almost triple the originally projected revenue, to pay for improvements.
The city should do something, Cohen says. He noted that this week a correspondent talking about the convention on Jon Stewart's Daily Show called Tampa "a s- - - hole."
"With a little more attention," he says, "we could go a long way toward not having anyone ever saying anything like that about Tampa."
Richard Danielson can be reached at Danielson@tampabay.com, (813) 226-3403 or @Danielson_Times on Twitter.