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Tampa will try again for federal grant to finish Riverwalk

TAMPA — After being denied last year, the city will apply again for a federal grant to finish the Riverwalk, and Mayor Bob Buckhorn will lobby U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood about the project Friday.

LaHood is scheduled to come to Tampa to look at progress on the $395 million project to build a new, elevated toll road to connect Interstate 4 to the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway.

Days after President Barack Obama called for spending on new roads, bridges, rail lines and other infrastructure projects in his State of the Union address, LaHood is expected to talk at a news conference about how the I-4 project is creating jobs in Central Florida. Without funds from the federal stimulus, the long-discussed project would not have started for years, officials say.

While LaHood is in town, "we're going to make the case once again" why a grant to finish the Riverwalk would be a good investment, Buckhorn said Wednesday.

"We have one more segment left to do that will go under the Kennedy (Boulevard) bridge, and I am on my hands and knees begging Washington, D.C., for help," he said.

That piece of the Riverwalk will connect MacDill Park to Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park. Because the Sheraton hotel and other properties along that section are built out to the seawall, the Riverwalk will have to be built over the river near the bank. Its estimated cost is $12 million.

In December, federal transportation officials denied the city's application for a grant to finish the Riverwalk. For that round of grants, the agency received 828 applications totalling more than $14 billion in projects, but it had only $511 million to award.

But there will be another chance to apply this spring for a round of grants to be announced in the fall.

"There's some things that we could have done better that we didn't do, but that we will do this time," Buckhorn said.

For example, after talking to federal officials about their previous application, Tampa officials plan to better show how the Riverwalk will fit into a larger city plan, also in the works, to connect downtown to areas such as Ybor City, the Channel District, Tampa Heights and North Hyde Park.

For now, the city is starting the next phase of the Riverwalk that is funded. That section, 220 feet that will go over the water around the CapTrust Building, will cost $1.44 million and be done in February 2013.

When the entire project is finished, people will be able to walk along the water from Channelside to Tampa Heights.

"Once that happens you're going to see a lot of development around the waterfront," Buckhorn said. "This Riverwalk will be a big reason why our downtown will be unrecognizable in five years."

Richard Danielson can be reached at, (813) 226-3403 or @Danielson_Times on Twitter.