When Meredith Berwick saw the sprawling pond sprouting fountains at Interstate 4 in Ybor City — padlocked behind a tall metal fence — she wasn’t quite sure what it was.
“I’ve lived here since 2017 and always wondered,” she said. “I thought: It’s probably not a fountain, it’s probably for water retention or something.”
But a fountain it is — if an odd and problematic one.
Once envisioned as an attractive gateway to Tampa’s Latin Quarter, it now costs $100,000 a year to maintain, has been a trouble spot for police and is in need of $1 million in repair work to restore, officials say.
“It’s quite expensive,” said Jean Duncan, infrastructure and mobility administrator for the city of Tampa, which maintains it for the Florida Department of Transportation.
But soon, that fountain — actually an artificial pond that features eight spouting fountains — is expected to be replaced by a new yet-to-be-named neighborhood amenity.
With a $1.3 million price tag to install, the fountain debuted in 2007, filling a gap between 21st and 22nd streets with the widening of Interstate 4.
It was built 261 feet long, 110 feet wide and 18 inches deep, holding 320,000 gallons of chlorinated water. Around it are old-school decorative streetlights, a nod to the historic neighborhood in which it sits.
Other suggestions for filling the space at the time were parking — deemed unsafe given the heavy surrounding traffic —and green space, thought dubious because of all the shade from the highway.
“Obviously, the dominoes (the fountain) created wasn’t even in the thoughts,” Duncan said.
Concerns about high maintenance costs quickly surfaced. When it had to be drained, it became a magnet for litter. Despite the imposing fence, homeless people have used it as a public bathroom. Tampa Police have been there on a regular basis, Duncan said. And it’s now considered a safety hazard.
Today city officials “think there may be a more cost-effective way to spend public money and more sensible and appealing use of public space,” said city spokesperson Adam Smith. The city is “hoping to work with community members, state transportation officials and other stakeholders to rethink that fountain,” he said.
The parks department will connect with residents for input, Duncan said. Public art, landscaping and benches are all possibilities, she said.
Smith said they’re hoping to have “an alternative concept” by the end of the year, and Duncan expects they’ll be working on the project a year from now.
Residents from surrounding neighborhoods will likely have plenty of thoughts.
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“We’re always pushing for green space and parks and dog parks,” said Berwick, who is now president of the Historic East Ybor and Gary Neighborhood Association. (Around Tampa Bay, dog parks under interstates are not unprecedented.)
“Even bocce ball courts,” she said. “Something to bring people together.”