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Tampa’s Kiley Garden is closed to events due to water damage, again

The park was once celebrated worldwide as a marvel of architectural landscaping.
Aerial drone view of Kiley Garden near Curtis Hixon Park and the Riverwalk in April 2021.
Aerial drone view of Kiley Garden near Curtis Hixon Park and the Riverwalk in April 2021. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Jan. 6|Updated Jan. 6

TAMPA — With nearly 1,000 trees planted in a checkered formation and separated by running water, which seen from above looked like a tapestry, Kiley Garden was once celebrated worldwide as a marvel of architectural landscaping.

But that changed more than a decade ago when the original design proved faulty.

The park’s floor doubles as the roof of a parking garage. Water leaked in, raising fears of a collapse. So much of what made Kiley Garden a spectacle was torn up or removed.

The 4 1/2-acre downtown city park located next to the Rivergate Tower at 400 N Ashley Dr. is again experiencing water problems, as first reported by Axios, and has been closed to events.

There is structural damage to the park and garage with more to come if there are no repairs. The garage remains open.

“Kiley Garden is currently unable to be used ... due to water intrusion issues that have been identified through an exploratory evaluation,” said city spokesperson Lauren Rozyla. “As a precautionary measure, the city is not allowing any events in the space until we receive full approval from an engineer to put loads on the top surface of the structure. General pedestrian traffic is allowed.”

The issue is related to the original fix, according to the city’s report compiled by the Walter P Moore Engineering company.

A new waterproofing membrane was installed during the 2006-2008 repairs, the report says. “Over the years the membrane began to fail, and water intrusion into the garage increased.”

It’s not a cheap fix.

It could cost up to $11 million, according to the report, and that “does not include the cost for either retrofit of the existing stormwater drainage system or installation of a new” one to assist with draining, nor will it pay for replacing the garage’s damaged electrical system.

It won’t be a quick fix. It’s already been announced that the Gasparilla Music Festival must seek a new venue.

Kiley Garden was designed for the Rivergate Tower.

Harry Wolf was commissioned in the 1980s to design the 31-story building on the corner of Kennedy Boulevard and Ashley Drive as the gateway to downtown.

The cylindrical design is distinctive and less intrusive, Wolf previously told the Tampa Bay Times. He added spotlights on the roof to create a lighthouse affect and designed the connecting glass Cube building to mimic Tampa’s urban grid.

He did it all using the Fibonacci series, in which each number in the series is the sum of the previous two — 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, and so on. Those proportions were used to draw up the tower’s radius, floor heights, dimensions and frequency of windows.

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Wolf then wanted a park to flow from the structure employing the Fibonacci series. Only architectural landscape artist Dan Kiley, who died in 2004, could have pulled it off, Wolf said.

“He was the dean of American landscape architecture, hands down,” Wolf said.

Kiley Garden originally had 800 crepe myrtles separated by runnels and fountains. Water flowed into the runnels and fountains from a 400-foot overhead canal, which connected the tower to the Cube.

To solve the previous water issues, the pools were filled with gravel, the water for the fountains and runnels shut off, and the canal removed. The trees were uprooted to fix the roof but never returned.

In recent years, activists have sought to restore Kiley Garden’s original look.

“There is still the question of what the top space of Kiley Garden will be restored to” the report says. “The space could be brought back to its current condition and utilized for events. The park could be redesigned for new opportunities to meet growing community needs in other ways.”