Tampa Mayor Iorio gets a preview of her vision

Construction continues on the new Tampa Museum of Art on Thursday afternoon. Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio stopped by last week to get a look for herself of the progress being made on the riverfront developments. “Isn’t this neat?” she said.

STEPHEN J. CODDINGTON | Times

Construction continues on the new Tampa Museum of Art on Thursday afternoon. Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio stopped by last week to get a look for herself of the progress being made on the riverfront developments. “Isn’t this neat?” she said.

What really got the mayor going was the view from the top of the concrete steps, built right out in the open air in the center of the dusty, bustling construction site.

Downtown Tampa, you had her at the Monumental Staircase.

(Not to mention the Great Lawn they're planning.)

Last week, Mayor Pam Iorio stopped by the sprawling construction site bordered by high-rises and the Hillsborough River, looked around, and decided to show off the new look of downtown even before all those Official Grand Openings to come.

So on a chilly morning, a gaggle of reporters stood with her as all around, cranes bobbed and jackhammers pounded and hard-hatted workers were busy as ants — progress, serious progress that will ultimately change the face of a city despite grim economic times.

"Isn't this neat?" said the mayor, being the kind of person who can say such things without sarcasm.

Not that what's going on along the west side of downtown Tampa (and curving around toward Channelside, where the new history museum opens tomorrow) hasn't been news: the struggle to get a vibrant new art museum, the plans for a children's museum and a riverwalk, the decisions on what to do with downtown parks out of date or in serious disrepair.

Suddenly, you see it coming together.

From the top of the 24 steps they named the Monumental Staircase, you see the bones of what will be the 55,000-square-foot Tampa Museum of Art, funded with $17-million from city community investment tax money generated by sales taxes and $11-million in private fundraising. You see what the mayor hopes will be a central park, the renovated and expanded Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park. You see the beginnings of a revamped Kiley Gardens, originally an arty little spot gone to seed. (Ever the Practical Pam, she says no more high-maintenance trees for Kiley. "Sod," she said firmly, though she said future mayors in better budget times may think differently.)

What else? Plans for a riverside restaurant accessible on foot or by boat. The Children's Museum to open next year. They're still looking for sponsors for a dog park. (Because, miracle of miracles, these days you really do see residents, actual residents, walking dogs downtown. This I know because the library lawn outside my office window does a brisk business, if you know what I mean.)

Across the river are graceful minarets rising at the University of Tampa. Seeing them, and the river, is sort of the point. This emerging waterfront won't be hidden by buildings, it will be out there to be used and enjoyed, and who would have thought? (Well, yes. St. Petersburg. You have a point there.)

Everyone, even officials and bosses and workers in hard hats, seemed a little giddy about it all. A reporter pointed to the old amphitheater on the river, the one nobody went to because it was so closed off and scary. Everyone noted some interesting graffiti spray-painted on one of its walls. We paid a lot for that, someone in a hard hat quipped. The artist hasn't signed it yet.

The mayor, who really does wear a lapel pin that says TAMPA, calls all this her city's untold story, playing out behind construction fences. From there on the stairs, you see what she does: signs of moving forward, not standing still.

Tampa Mayor Iorio gets a preview of her vision 01/15/09 [Last modified: Thursday, January 22, 2009 4:32pm]

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