Advertisement
  1. Archive

RIVERWALK HITS STUMBLING BLOCKS

Not much is expected to be finished in time for the '09 Super Bowl.

When the NFL announced three years ago that the Super Bowl would come to Tampa in 2009, Mayor Pam Iorio pledged to fast-track work on a downtown Riverwalk and get as much as possible done in time for the game.

So how much is likely to be done by then?

Not much.

Riverwalk manager Lee Hoffman predicts a continuous section from north of the Tampa Convention Center to near Channelside will be done early next year.

That's about one-third of the planned 2.2-mile linear park along the Hillsborough River.

A sluggish private fundraising campaign, a real estate downturn that's stymied developers who promised to build portions of the park, and limited public money have all conspired to keep construction of the $40-million project at a snail's pace.

Reid Sigmon, executive director of the 2009 Super Bowl Host Committee, said that when the spotlight shines on Tampa next year, it will be clear that "we're a city in progress."

Not only will the Riverwalk still be under construction, but so will the new Curtis Hixon Park that includes a portion of the Riverwalk, the Tampa Museum of Art and the Children's Museum.

That's okay, said Paul Catoe, who heads Tampa Bay and Company, the county's convention and visitors bureau.

If those amenities were done in time for the Super Bowl, they would likely be used for game-related events. But the host committee, NFL and private groups will schedule parties and meetings everywhere from St. Petersburg to Orlando.

The new park and the Riverwalk, he said, are for the community, not the Super Bowl.

Iorio said construction on the Riverwalk is "proceeding in a methodical fashion."

"I have always said it will be done piece by piece in a partnership with the private sector," she said. "I am always more concerned with the end result- a quality Riverwalk."

The Riverwalk dates back to the 1970s, when then-Mayor Bill Poe hatched the idea. Mayors since then have taken steps to make the vision real, with Iorio the first to make it a priority.

She hired Hoffman, who earns $98,000 a year, in 2004 to coordinate the effort.

Hoffman said when he visited riverwalks in cities such as Chattanooga, Tenn., and Fort Lauderdale, he couldn't understand why it took them so long to build their projects.

"Now I understand," he said. "The process is slow and cumbersome."

Iorio set a private fundraising goal of $24-million, with public costs set at about $16-million.

The city has spent about $4.1-million so far for Riverwalk construction - largely from gas tax money, not property taxes - with plans to cap expenses at $5.4-million.

The Legislature and Gov. Charlie Crist approved $2-million for it last year. Iorio hopes the state contribution will reach $5.5-million.

And the federal government has kicked in about $4.7-million, topping a goal of $3-million.

The $15-million remake of Curtis Hixon Park, slated to begin this month, also will include a section of the Riverwalk.

The not-for-profit Friends of the Riverwalk in September hired Alex Petrilak - who is paid $110,000 a year by the private group - to lead efforts to raise $20-million from the private sector. So far, the campaign has netted about $3.5-million in contributions, pledges and in-kind donations, Petrilak said.

"This is a patient process in raising private sector funds," Petrilak said. "Donors want to see that this is not going to be a bunch of passive parks, but a place where there is something continuously going on."

Developers with projects along the Hillsborough River have pledged to build more than a mile of the Riverwalk at a cost of about $4-million.

But the Heights, a multifamily community slated for north of the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, has been slowed by the real estate slump.

Developers of the Trump Tower were supposed to build a piece of the Riverwalk, but that project has also been plagued by delays.

Iorio had considered buying the Trump Tower's riverfront property, but at a cost of $6-million, that idea was abandoned, Hoffman said.

"I'm really hoping that Trump will come about," he said.

For Dick Beard, who chairs Tampa's Super Bowl Host Committee, the slow pace on the Riverwalk is less of a concern than the fact that the renovation of Curtis Hixon Park won't be finished in time for the game.

"If the big park was finished, it would give us a little bit better place for a big local event," he said.

In the days before last year's Super Bowl in Miami, Motorola sponsored activities on a mile-long stretch of Ocean Drive in South Beach. The street teemed with people and entertainment throughout the weekend and provided a central location for partying and star-gazing.

Beard said he has been talking to Motorola about something similar in Tampa.

"We've got to find someplace like that where people can go and get in the action, and that's going to be hard," he said. "We don't have the perfect place."

Iorio said it would have been nice to have the park along with the portion of the Riverwalk and art and children's museums it will hold done before the Super Bowl, but they took time to coordinate and design.

"These are projects that will last for generations," she said. "It is more important to me that they be done right than to rush for the sake of a special event.

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

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Advertisement
Advertisement