The coming year will be a significant one for Tampa Bay's two biggest downtown waterfronts. In St. Petersburg, the city will lay the groundwork for a new waterfront master plan that voters demanded. And in Tampa, two projects aimed at reconnecting the Hillsborough River to surrounding neighborhoods are expected. All are a testament to the value of public green spaces and the role local governments can take in making Tampa Bay a nicer place to live.
A century after city leaders preserved public access to Tampa Bay by establishing a string of parks that now stretch 7 miles long, voters are demanding a new commitment to stewardship of the asset. Amid questions about the future of the Pier, voters in 2012 amended the city charter to require a master plan for the downtown waterfront by July 1, 2015.
Business and city leaders are awaiting the final report from the Urban Land Institute, and the city will launch a series of public forums early next year to discuss the findings. Among the highlights of ULI's preliminary report: The city has a remarkable asset but it can be improved, from better marketing of the city's enviable landscape to better connecting the southern portion where Albert Whitted Airport, Al Lang Stadium and various marine enterprises interrupt pedestrian access, including to neighborhoods to the south.
Also on the table is how to better connect the University of South Florida St. Petersburg with the hospital district to the west and how to develop public event spaces on the waterfront's southern half to alleviate pressure on the northern end. And sure to be a controversial discussion is what is next for the underutilized Al Lang Stadium with a storied past?
The northern part of Tampa's downtown riverfront is set for a major face-lift in 2014.
The city is remaking Water Works Park, turning the historic spring into the backdrop for a new park and restaurant. Set on a gentle slope on the eastern bank of the Hillsborough River, Water Works Park will connect downtown with a new, mixed-use neighborhood to the north.
Across on the western bank, the city is looking to redevelop Riverfront Park, opening and expanding this vast, underused green space with sweeping views of the city center. Riverfront will be a new draw unto itself, and serve as a magnet to remake the upland neighborhoods to the north, which now sport aging public housing projects and a city truck yard.
These park renovations will expand downtown's urban feel into the nearby neighborhoods, creating pedestrian gateways in and out of downtown, and new places to lounge, eat and play. They also could lead to a revival of old West Tampa and Tampa Heights as enviable places to live and work.