With city's help, fans of Tampa's Kiley Garden aim for a comeback

Tampa has already undertaken a $4.2 million structural renovation of Kiley Garden, built atop an underground parking garage. Thursday, the City Council voted to see if any funds are available to help the Friends of Kiley Garden in their bid to spruce it up.

CAROLINA HIDALGO | Times

Tampa has already undertaken a $4.2 million structural renovation of Kiley Garden, built atop an underground parking garage. Thursday, the City Council voted to see if any funds are available to help the Friends of Kiley Garden in their bid to spruce it up.

TAMPA — The City Council will look for funds to help complete an ambitious restoration of Kiley Garden, often forgotten by locals but admired internationally by landscape architects.

The 2-acre city park is next to Rivergate Tower, also known as the "Beer Can" building, opposite the minarets of the University of Tampa.

"Some of the best views we have of Tampa are standing in that garden and looking over the Hillsborough River," said architect Taryn Sabia, who spoke to the council Thursday on behalf of the nonprofit Friends of Kiley Garden.

Already the city has undertaken a $4.2 million structural renovation of the park, which was built atop an underground parking garage.

"The good news is we've done the expensive part, the under the ground part," former City Council member Linda Saul-Sena told the council on Thursday. "Now we can bring this park back."

Planting new dwarf crape myrtles and cabbage palms — something Saul-Sena hopes could be done before the Republican National Convention in August — would cost an estimated $250,000.

It's not the trees themselves that are the main expense, she told council members. Rather, the more expensive part would be to plant them in planters that would prevent leaks into the parking garage below.

Built in 1988 and previously known as the NCNB Plaza, the garden features alternating squares of grass and concrete in an eye-catching checkerboard pattern.

Landscape architect Dan Kiley created the garden in conjunction with architect Harry Wolf, who designed the 31-story Beer Can building and its stone-and-glass cube pavilion.

Kiley, who died in 2004, is known for other landscape design projects, including Fountain Place in Dallas and the greenery around the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Mo.

Together Kiley and Wolf used a mathematical formula known as the Fibonacci sequence to bring an elegant geometry to the tower, the park and how they fit together.

"It's a very sophisticated design, and it's one that we should be very proud to have in Tampa," Sabia said.

But the dwarf crape myrtles that Kiley specified were never planted. Instead, full-sized crape myrtles went in, and their roots contributed to what became a chronic problem of leaks into the parking garage below. As the trees grew, they also cracked the concrete and upended the pavers.

Over time, as the park grew shabbier, scholars of landscape architecture grew alarmed. The nonprofit Cultural Landscape Foundation listed the park as an endangered garden. After a visit in 2003, a former associate of Kiley called it "a modern ruin, almost cemetery-like."

In 2006, a long restoration process began as workers with chain saws cut down more than 100 of the crape myrtles that dotted the park.

On Thursday, Council member Mary Mulhern made a motion to ask the city's parks and community redevelopment agency staffs to report on any funds available to help pay for new trees at the park.

The council also voted to ask for a staff report on any past applications made to the city to designate Kiley Garden as a local historic landmark.

A landmark designation, if granted by the city's Historic Preservation Commission, would help the Friends apply for grants for the improvements, Saul-Sena said.

Restoring the park's fountains would cost an estimated $180,000 to $220,000, and the group plans to apply for grants for that, Saul-Sena said. It also is looking for private donors to pay for maintaining the new landscaping.

Council members wished her luck.

"I think this would be such a phenomenal addition to the riverfront," Council member Harry Cohen said. "It's just going to add so much beauty to the work that's already been done."

Richard Danielson can be reached at Danielson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3403.

With city's help, fans of Tampa's Kiley Garden aim for a comeback 03/08/12 [Last modified: Friday, March 9, 2012 12:11am]

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