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Tampa Riverwalk to honor six local trailblazers

Rafael Martinez-Ybor stands next to a depiction of the bronze bust that will honor his great grandfather Vicente Martinez-Ybor, one of the first six honorees at Riverwalk. “It’s just an honor to have him be one of the first six,” Martinez-Ybor said.
Rafael Martinez-Ybor stands next to a depiction of the bronze bust that will honor his great grandfather Vicente Martinez-Ybor, one of the first six honorees at Riverwalk. “It’s just an honor to have him be one of the first six,” Martinez-Ybor said.
Published Mar. 7, 2012

TAMPA

When nine local historians met to pick the first six pioneers to be honored on Tampa's Riverwalk, they came up with three men, two women and a surprise.

The surprise — the first selection announced at the Tampa Bay History Center Tuesday — was not an individual, but a group: the earliest mound-building Indians to settle around Tampa Bay and in what is now downtown Tampa.

The others represent early strivers in shipping (James McKay Sr.), railroads and hotels (Henry B. Plant), cigarmaking (Vicente Martinez-Ybor), nursing (Clara Frye) and women's rights (Eleanor McWilliams Chamberlain).

"What resonates with me is that these were individuals who not only cared about themselves and their families, but about their community and helping someone else," Mayor Bob Buckhorn said at the ceremony.

Each honoree will be memorialized with a bronze bust created by Tampa artist Steven Dickey. The art is expected to be installed on the Riverwalk in the next six to nine months. The nonprofit Friends of the Riverwalk privately raised the $15,000 needed to make each bust.

As the Friends of the Riverwalk raises more money, the group will call together the historians to make more selections and install more markers, said Steve Anderson, who chairs the Friends' historic monument trail committee.

Meanwhile, city officials plan to work on some fundraising of their own by reapplying for a federal transportation grant to build the last big leg of the Riverwalk. That piece will connect MacDill Park to Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park. Its estimated cost is $12 million because the Sheraton hotel and other properties along that section are built out to the seawall, forcing the Riverwalk to be built over the river near the bank.

"We're going to get it done, and at the end of this we will have a celebration unlike anything that we have ever seen," Buckhorn said.

"When that Riverwalk behind you is finished in the not-very-distant future," Anderson said, "the city of Tampa is going to be transformed in ways that we are just now beginning to realize."

Not only will it be a place to walk and enjoy the waterfront, he said, but also to dine, to meet others and, with the historical monuments announced Tuesday, to learn about the history of Tampa.

To be considered, the honorees had to have lived here, left a significant, positive legacy and been dead for at least 15 years.

For the descendents of those selected, Tuesday's ceremony was a moving tribute.

"It means a great deal, because to me, he was my idol," said Martinez-Ybor's great-grandson Rafael Martinez-Ybor, 83, a retired banker who lives in Temple Terrace. "I'm very proud to carry his name."

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.