Tuesday's announcement that Tampa has won an $11 million federal grant to complete the final links of the Riverwalk is great news for downtown and a credit to the dogged leadership of Mayor Bob Buckhorn and the congressional delegation. The money will bring to completion a decades-long dream to line the downtown riverfront with a seamless pedestrian trail that will add ambience, energy and character to the city's center.
The grant will pay for a stretch of Riverwalk from Curtis Hixon Park south under the Kennedy Boulevard bridge, and for a link between the performing arts center and Water Works Park. This would complete a 2.6-mile path from the Channel District to the northern end of downtown near Tampa Heights. Previous mayors lined up land and funding, and Pam Iorio, Buckhorn's predecessor, made the project a priority during her two terms.
The Riverwalk is already a popular destination, linking together new museums, parks, hotels and tourist venues along the waterfront. Completing the Kennedy segment will mark a symbolic as well as physical achievement. Having the city's political and civic leaders follow through on such an ambitious effort — especially during these tough economic times — speaks to the new regard for downtown, and to what's possible when the city thinks big and sticks to its vision.
It helps having a mayor who is not afraid to see through what his predecessors started, is comfortable jumping on a plane and not content with no for an answer. Buckhorn lobbied U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and other officials hard, and he had critical allies in U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa. Success means jobs, a new appeal to the waterfront and an asset to enjoy for generations. The timing of the news, coming just before President Barack Obama's visit on Friday, is no coincidence.
The win also is a confidence-booster for a city looking to build on its profile after hosting this summer's Republican National Convention. It is exciting not only to complete the Riverwalk but to imagine how the city can redirect those energies toward its next great civic project.