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RIVERWALK PROGRESS TOO SLOW FOR '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 the 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 a third of the planned 2.2-mile 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 is 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.

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

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 top priority.

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. The state approved $2-million for it last year. And the federal government has kicked in about $4.7-million.

The not-for-profit Friends of the Riverwalk in September hired Alex Petrilak at $110,000 a year 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.

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.

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

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