Standing in front of a bronze bust of his great-grandfather — Vicente Martinez-Ybor, the man who brought the cigar industry to Tampa — 83-year-old Rafael Martinez-Ybor said the likeness "makes me feel proud of the name that I carry." • "It's an honor to have this unveiling," he said during a ceremony last week at the Tampa Bay History Center. "It's just a great thing to see these people, that they're not forgotten for what they did for the area." • Far from it. • Busts of six Tampa pioneers — from pre-Columbian native peoples to railroad magnate Henry B. Plant — began going up last week on solid granite pedestals along the Riverwalk.
The nonprofit Friends of the Riverwalk raised private funds for the project, and the Hillsborough County Historic Preservation Challenge Grant program gave $120,000 to help cover the costs of installing six of the monuments both this year and next.
A committee of local historians and folklore experts made the first round of selections for what organizers intend to be an annual effort to add memorials of historic local figures to the trail.
To be chosen, the pioneers had to have been dead for at least 15 years, had to have lived in Tampa or Hillsborough County, must have served or influenced the community and must have made a lasting impact on Tampa's history and left a lasting legacy.
The first six selected included three men, two women and one group, mound-building Indians who settled along Tampa Bay long before European explorers arrived in the area. Along with Martinez-Ybor and Plant, the first set of trailblazers to be honored shaped Tampa through shipping (James McKay Sr.), nursing (Clara Frye) and women's rights (Eleanor McWilliams Chamberlain).
In sculpting the busts, artist Steven Dickey of Tampa says he typically had only one or two photos to go on. With one person, he had only a sketch, and in the case of the mound-builders, there wasn't even that.
Consequently, he had to do some detective work to re-create the figures and their clothes, down to spending a lot of time on the computer looking at dress patterns from the 1800s and early 1900s.
"Not having a live subject is a challenge," Dickey said. "It's difficult to get a lot of the depth that you might be able to get if you see somebody in the round."
Meanwhile, city officials plan to use a $10.9 million federal transportation grant to finish the last remaining sections of the Riverwalk — one going south of Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park under the Kennedy Boulevard Bridge and a second going north from the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts to Water Works Park.
The section that will go under Kennedy already has been designed, and city officials plan to seek bids for construction as soon as the grant agreement is executed. The grant agreement is scheduled to go to the City Council on Thursday, but then still needs to be signed off on by officials in Tallahassee and at the U.S. Department of Transportation in Washington, D.C.
Ideally, they'll seek bids in January and start construction by early April, according to city spokeswoman Ali Glisson.
The city is evaluating five applications from architects bidding to design the section north of the performing arts center. Design work is expected to take a year, with construction starting by May 2014.
If all goes as scheduled, the section under Kennedy should be complete by February 2015, and the northern section should be finished in April 2015.
"I want those bids on the street," Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said last week. "Every month that goes by is a month that I can't cut a ribbon on that thing."
Richard Danielson can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3403.