TAMPA — For decades, college rowing teams have come to Tampa for their winter training and left their marks on seawalls lining the Hillsborough River.
When Tampa all but ignored the river, that was okay. Since at least the 1980s, dozens of teams from the Ivy League, Big Ten and other parts of the country have snuck out at night to paint their colors, nicknames and inside jokes just above the waterline.
But now the city has spent tens of millions of dollars to build the Riverwalk. With the most high-profile section of the project set to open in January, rowing team graffiti north of Kennedy Boulevard has been targeted for sandblasting later this month.
It its place will go a new public art initiative similar to the "Agua Luces" lights installed on Tampa's bridges over the Hillsborough River in 2012.
The new installation near Kiley Gardens is meant to be "active and engaging" and to highlight the river, said Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who wants to make the center of downtown.
Lighting the bridges and the Riverwalk section that passes under the Kennedy bridge will create "a signature for Tampa," he said in a statement Monday.
The new art, being done as part of the Lights on Tampa 2015 program, has been designed by Wannemacher Jensen Architects and will light up the seawall and the water between the Riverwalk and the seawall. As pedestrians pass by, motion sensors will change the color of the lights.
Removing the graffiti will cost $80,000, with the cost split between the city and the private, nonprofit Friends of the Riverwalk. It is expected to take two to three weeks.
On Thursday, the City Council will consider an agreement to give the Friends of the Riverwalk and its contractor access to the Riverwalk north of Kennedy for "cleaning and painting to remove staining and defacement," a memo to the council says.
Now that the city is putting its own art on the seawall, it says in a news release that officials will seek to have anyone "who defaces public property by putting graffiti on the downtown bridges or the seawall by Kiley Gardens and Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park" fined for the costs of removal.
Historically, authorities have said the graffiti constituted "criminal mischief," a misdemeanor, but incidents involving law enforcement have been rare.
In 1987, three guys from Penn paid a small fine after being arrested while dangling a teammate over a bridge to paint a hard-to-reach spot. And in 1997, a women's team from Princeton got in trouble after a Tampa Tribune security guard caught them painting the west seawall next to the paper's offices.
Removing graffiti is not unprecedented. In 2009, construction of Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park entailed putting in a new seawall that eliminated some team tags. In 2012, bridges that have been a popular spot for graffiti were painted as part of the city's effort to light up the bridges at night.
Contact Richard Danielson at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times