Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Carlton: Would you pay $35 million for a park?

Tampa’s 23-acre Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park is in line for a $35.5 million makeover. [City of Tampa rendering]

Tampa’s 23-acre Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park is in line for a $35.5 million makeover. [City of Tampa rendering]

Shoot down a tax for transportation, if you must. Refuse to pay a taxpayer dime for some fancy new sports stadium, fine.

But it's hard to argue against a park.

This is especially true since downtown Tampa is finally getting parks right after those dismal years of sad, patchy stretches of grass with a waterfront hidden in there somewhere, and people not much interested in being there even in daylight.

Now the town's just showing off. These days, Tampa's parks teem with residents splashing in fountains and enjoying the river for its boats, surfacing turtles and, as I witnessed last weekend, manatees frolicking in a flowing spring (rented, I strongly suspect, from the nearby Lowry Park Zoo as ambience).

So, a question: How much is too much to pay for a park?

Thursday, the Tampa City Council will consider Mayor Bob Buckhorn's plans for "the biggest park project we've ever undertaken" — $35.5 million for a now sadly under-used but oh-so-promising 23 acres sprawled on the west side of the river across from the high-rises of downtown.

We're not just talking about adding a few amenities and opening up water views by razing the park's odd man-made hills (or "alien space mounds," as the mayor calls them, which does not sound like a compliment).

At Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park, built in the 1970s and named for a previous mayor, we're talking transformation: a great lawn for events, a bustling riverfront with a boathouse, community room and deck, a promenade and facilities for basketball, tennis, soccer and football with bleachers. All of which could open next year.

So about that $35.5 million — $15 million of which would come from the $20 million Tampa got from the BP oil spill settlement:

Council member Lisa Montelione: "Yeah, that's way too much." Harry Cohen, whose South Tampa constituency has not been quiet about wanting fixes for flooding: "It's a lot of money and I'm taking my time making a decision. I want to hear what the public has to say and what the other council members have to say."

Council elder statesman Charlie Miranda: "I've never voted against any park in my life. The only drawback I see is that it is $35 million."

Funny, though, how politics can make strange bedfellows. Council member Frank Reddick, who represents some of the city's poorest neighborhoods and has clashed with the mayor more than once, is with Buckhorn on this one because of all it could be for the community around it. (The mayor "will probably be shocked himself," Reddick says.)

Here's why paying for this park will probably pass, and probably should. Two words: West Tampa.

The mayor envisions a thriving West River neighborhood, but to old-timers, it will always be West Tampa. The land — all those valuable park acres smack in the middle of a city — lies at the edge of the historic and hardscrabble Hispanic community that has seen its share of blight. And which has not gotten the same care and maintenance as some wealthier parts of town.

"It's about time we spend some money in West Tampa," says council member Yvonne Yolie Capin. Guido Maniscalco and Mike Suarez say they're in, too. "A hefty price tag," says Suarez, "but we have not put this much money into Old West Tampa in I don't know how many years."

Those other city parks, once neglected and now thriving, prove this much: If you build it, they will come, even if it's on the other side of the river.

Contact Sue Carlton at

Carlton: Would you pay $35 million for a park? 05/17/16 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 17, 2016 8:13pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Nearly 1 in 4 Tampa Bay homeowners considered equity rich

    Real Estate

    If your home is worth at least 50 percent more than you owe, you're rich — equity rich that is.

    About one in four Tampa Bay homeowners are considered "equity rich." [Associated Press file photo]
  2. Trump strategist Steve Bannon: No military solution in North Korea


    BRIDGEWATER, N.J. — President Donald Trump's chief strategist Steve Bannon says there's no military solution to the threat posed by North Korea and its nuclear ambitions, despite the president's recent pledge to answer further aggression with "fire and fury."

    Steve Bannon, chief White House strategist to President Donald Trump, has drawn fire from some of Trump's closest advisers. [Associated Press]
  3. Rays have their chances, but end up with another loss (w/video)

    The Heater

    TORONTO — The litany of games the Rays have given away this season is long enough, arguably too lengthy. So the only way to get to the postseason is make up for some of those losses by grabbing some wins when the opportunity is presented, especially at this time of year when the margin is diminished and the stakes …

    Associated Press
  4. Dunedin man accused of possessing child pornography


    DUNEDIN — A 57-year-old man was arrested Wednesday, accused of intentionally downloading child pornography, the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office said.

    Richard Beal Anger, 57, of Dunedin faces 11 counts of possession of child pornography. [Courtesy of the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office]
  5. Pence cuts short Latin America trip and pressures Chile to sever all ties to North Korea


    SANTIAGO, Chile — Vice President Mike Pence is cutting short his Latin America trip by one day to return to Washington for a strategy meeting Friday at Camp David with President Donald Trump and the national security team.

    Vice President Mike Pence urged Chilean President Michelle Bachelet to take a tougher stand against North Korea on Wednesday in Santiago, Chile.