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Tampa officials seek ideas for Riverfront Park makeover

TAMPA — Mayor Bob Buckhorn has no shortage of ideas on ways to improve Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park, but he knows others have desires of their own.

So Tuesday night a crowd of about 100 neighbors and others gathered at Blake High School to weigh in on what they want to see after the city sends in the bulldozers.

Some hit the door thinking big — like creating a freshwater tropical beach on the Hillsborough River.

"This beach fits," said Rob Dubsky, president of the nonprofit North Hyde Park Alliance business group, which proposed the idea. "You have all these towers going up downtown, and people could walk right over the bridge to that beach. The University of Tampa could be using it, too."

Dubsky said he saw something similar on a trip to Brisbane, Australia, which is about an hour away from a popular coastal surfing area and had its own river running through downtown. During the summer, he said, it was packed.

The 23-acre park, across the river from downtown Tampa, is in line for a re-imagining that could cost an estimated $8 million and start construction in spring 2016.

The city has hired Denver-based Civitas — not related to the old Civitas redevelopment plan from a decade ago — to lead the planning effort for $708,400.

To gather ideas Tuesday night, organizers put participants around tables in Blake's cafeteria, then had them post green or red sticky paper dots on a chart listing possible ideas for the park.

Lots of green dots of support went to ideas like a community market or kayak launch. The thought of a "hammock grove," a bunch of hammocks hanging together, drew many red dots of disapproval. The urban beach also got lots of dots, both red and green. And some people added their own ideas, including putting up a Ferris wheel.

After listening at this first community meeting, Civitas plans to return with a first round of ideas for discussion on June 10, a draft plan on Aug. 12 and, ideally, a plan ready to go forward on Sept. 9.

Civitas representatives already have talked with about 40 individuals and small groups over the last two months and found that some didn't even realize there was a park there. Organizers also plan to set up a discussion and idea forum on the project at

"Out of this will come the ultimate plan," Buckhorn said. If, for example, residents want a certain type of exercise equipment or a splash pad where kids can cool off, they should say so.

"I am hopeful that everyone will feel like their voice was added to the mix," he said.

Buckhorn has talked for nearly two years about his desire to make the park more active, accessible and appealing.

Buckhorn's goals include moving Laurel Street, which now cuts the park into two big pieces. If Laurel were rerouted to skirt the northern edge of the park, next to Interstate 275, the park's usable space could grow by 5 to 7 acres.

Buckhorn also wants to flatten Riverfront's large mounds to open up the park's views of the river. City officials have said the Boys & Girls Club and the Stewards Foundation, which conducts community rowing programs, aren't going anywhere.