TAMPA — The city planned to get around to it anyway: new palm trees on Bayshore Boulevard, purple lantanas near Union Station, golden rain trees and crape myrtles on Orange Avenue, to name a few.
But there's nothing like the prospect of 50,000 guests to kick the yard work into action.
City officials have begun unrolling $2.7 million in landscaping work near downtown, including $617,000 for Bayshore Boulevard, in anticipation of the Republican National Convention in August.
The so-called Gateway improvements have been a priority of Mayor Bob Buckhorn, but the city pushed up its dates to get much of the work done so that the cameras can capture Tampa at its prettiest.
"We have a city government on steroids right now. We are really moving full throttle," Buckhorn said. "Certainly it was a priority for me that we start in the downtown. Because the entire world will be looking at downtown Tampa."
In addition to the Bayshore work, another dozen downtown entry points are getting spruced up, including Ashley Drive, Laurel Street, Franklin Street, Nuccio Parkway, Channelside and the streetcar line from Franklin to Adamo Drive.
Buckhorn did not have a dollar cost for maintenance but said the money would be built into future budgets.
It's not just the city doing work. The Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority has begun a $246,275 contract to spruce up the underpass at Swann Avenue and the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway. The work, which is expected to be finished by July 1, includes new plants, lighting and a paint job.
The project is being paid for with toll money, said authority spokeswoman Sue Chrzan.
Chrzan said the agency had been working with the Historic Hyde Park Neighborhood Association for nearly three years to figure out an improvement project. But the RNC got things moving, she said.
"Basically, that's what motivated people to say, 'Okey dokey, we've been talking about this for a while,' " Chrzan said.
The association has agreed to take over maintenance costs after a year.
Nature won't allow the world to see the city in full bloom. It'll be late August, after all, and the new jacarandas and jasmine blossoms, for instance, won't be making appearances.
"The color explosion on Bayshore will happen early spring," said Brad Suder, an official with the city's parks and recreation department. But, "We'll have color year-round, and that was very important to the mayor."
Jodie Tillman can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3374.