TAMPA — Eight months after the benches disappeared from Lykes Gaslight Square Park, a new plan has emerged: lending some of the park to the Tampa Downtown Partnership to open a cafe with outdoor seating.
The plan, which will be presented to the Tampa City Council on Thursday, fits with the Partnership’s strategic initiatives, including improving public places and enhancing the downtown experience, according to a statement from the organization. The Partnership noted it played a role in creating the park.
"We are excited that Mayor Castor is focused on placemaking and we look forward to working with her, city council, and city staff,” said Lynda Remund, the Partnership’s President and CEO.
Homeless advocates protested the city’s decision to remove the benches in March and were unhappy with the city’s announcement in July that they were too damaged to be repaired — the original explanation for why they taken out.
The Partnership has been informally discussing the cafe idea with the city for years, starting with former mayor Bob Buckhorn, city and partnership officials said Wednesday.
“These improvements will create a communal space for patrons of all ages to enjoy,” said Ashley Bauman, Castor’s spokeswoman.
City legal staff is working on codifying the arrangement, which may or may not include a payment to the city for the space, said Ashly Anderson, the Partnership’s director of marketing and design.
She said the cafe, which would include tables and chairs, is still very much in the conceptual stage. A menu hasn’t been developed. And nearby restaurateurs have yet to be consulted. All that would happen if the city moves forward with the proposal, she said.
A cafe isn’t an attempt to permanently discourage the homeless from congregating there, Anderson said. Before the benches were removed, dozens of homeless people would gather in the park and groups frequently offered free food.
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Council chairman Luis Viera said he’ll listen to the proposal, albeit with some suspicion.
Viera said he’s not sure he favors more city parkland being turned over for other uses. In recent years, Four Green Fields, an Irish tavern, has leased a portion of Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park and Big Ray’s Fish Camp has leased a portion of the city’s Riverwalk.
“There’s a lot of unknowns on this. Whenever you have development on a park space like this, you give up a lot. But I’m going to have to hear them out on this,” Viera said.
Viera said he wouldn’t support any plan that was designed to limit public access to the downtown park, located across the street from City Hall.
“If this was part of a plan to discourage the congregation of a vulnerable population of any kind, obviously I would vigorously oppose that. But I have nothing to base that on,” Viera said.
The City Council meeting starts at 9 a.m.