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City puts pricetag on Riverwalk

(ran SS edition of METRO & STATE)

The Riverwalk, which Mayor Pam Iorio hopes to be her administration's legacy, now has a pricetag: $38.5-million.

Lee Hoffman, the city's manager of the Riverwalk project, stressed that the number is preliminary. It's based on an initial report from EDAW Inc., the company hired to develop a master plan for the 2.4-mile walkway along the Hillsborough River from Tampa Heights to the Channel District.

"This is conceptual," he said. "It's a very rough estimate, so there's going to be some variation."

The price doesn't include a short segment next to the Florida Aquarium that is still the subject of negotiations.

The most expensive pieces will be a walkway over the Cass Street bridge, which could cost $4.5-million, and a floating promenade by the Convention Center, with an estimated cost of $3.8-million.

City officials hope to pay for the project from a variety of sources, including a capital campaign set for kickoff in March.

Other fundraising goals include $500,000 from the county, $5-million from the state's economic development and transportation budget, $6-million from the federal government and $1.9-million from property taxes in a nearby new development called The Heights, and from Channel District. The city will allot $5.4-million from its general budget.

The city is also counting on a $7-million contribution from developers of The Heights, a 2,000-unit development slated for north of the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center.

"They say they want to help us out, but we have not worked out what those costs are. Is the $7-million more than they want to spend? We don't know," Hoffman said.

Deanne Roberts, a spokeswoman for the developer of The Heights, said it was premature to discuss her group's contribution to the project.

"We're working on a Riverwalk design that fits with our new community and the historic Tampa Heights neighborhood," she said. "We'll work with the city on design and cost issues as part of our rezoning process."

Hoffman said he wants to have most of the Riverwalk done before the Super Bowl comes to Tampa in 2009.

Christine Burdick, president of the Tampa Downtown Partnership, said $38.5-million is a lot of money, but it sounds about right for a major downtown project.

"The Riverwalk will be a significant public amenity," she said. "Considering there are private resources interested and the intent all along has been to have it be a public and private investment, I don't think that's awful. This community deserves to have it, and they'll step up to get it."

One-mile stretches of riverwalk along each side of Fort Lauderdale's New River cost $20-million, said Patsy Mennuti, executive director of the Riverwalk Trust. Construction on the project began more than 15 years ago, and it's almost finished.

Tampa City Council member Shawn Harrison, who represents north Tampa, said he thinks the Riverwalk is a worthwhile project that will add a "great deal to the life of downtown."

"Everyone knows it's going to be incredibly expensive," Harrison said. But the city contribution, budgeted over several years, seems reasonable. "Those sorts of numbers are realistic and probably supportable by council," he said.

Driving the cost of the project higher is construction around bridges that cross the river. At those locations, the walkway needs to be elevated over the bridges or curved out into the water.

Friends of the Riverwalk, a nonprofit established in part to run a private fundraising campaign for Tampa's project, has received $85,000 in donations so far - $10,000 from a wine store on N Dale Mabry Highway, $25,000 from an individual and $50,000 from Bright House.

Another $62,000 has been allocated from the Channel District special taxing district.

This year's city budget included $1.7-million to build a small strip of Riverwalk beside the Platt Street bridge, and $848,000 for EDAW to develop the plan.

State Rep. Trey Traviesa, R-Brandon, last year got a $200,000 appropriation included in Florida's transportation and economic development budget. Gov. Jeb Bush vetoed the request, but Traviesa is not deterred. He made a $5.5-million request this year.

"A couple advantages we have with this project is that it involves urban revitalization and efforts to move pedestrian traffic in a different way. It's a growth management issue, not just a beautification project," Traviesa said.

Some portions of the Riverwalk are already done, including MacDill and USF parks north of the convention center, Cotanchobee Park by the St. Pete Times Forum and the Marriott Waterside hotel.

The city will host a community meeting on the Riverwalk at 6 p.m. tonight at Ragan Park Community Center, 1200 E Lake Ave.

Janet Zink can be reached at (813) 226-3401 or jzink@sptimes.com.

The most expensive portion of Riverwalk is expected to be a walkway over the Cass Street bridge, which could cost $4.5-million. The walkway leading up to the bridge is shown here. The next most expensive part, a floating promenade by the Convention Center, has an estimated cost of $3.8-million.

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