TAMPA — In the morning, the runners, power-walkers and leashed dogs rule the 2.6 mile stretch of Tampa’s curving Riverwalk between the downtown high rises and the water. Later in the day, it’s locals, tourists and day-trippers, then the cocktail crowd as the water taxis cruise past.
The Riverwalk packs them in for Gasparilla, the latest Stanley Cup win and the dying o’ the river green. When Tampa hosts a big event, it’s a good bet national TV will show the Riverwalk — recently ranked No. 7 on Fodor’s Travel’s list of the best river walks in America.
“Transformative? Absolutely,” said Santiago Corrada, president and CEO of Visit Tampa Bay.
After several decades and multiple mayors to make it happen, Tampa’s Riverwalk is officially a hit.
So, how about a few more miles of it in the next four years?
Unofficially referred to as West Riverwalk or the West River project, the newest addition across the river from downtown will hug the west-side waterline for more than two miles, paralleling the original version on the east bank. That trail will run from Platt Street near the Bayshore Publix in Hyde Park north to an area near the well-known Rick’s on the River bar and restaurant in West Tampa.
But much of the project’s total 6.1 pedestrian- and bike-friendly miles, which will largely be separated from car traffic, will have a decidedly different feel and focus.
The original Riverwalk — in a growing, thriving downtown and accessible to affluent South Tampa via Bayshore Boulevard — is all about recreation and entertainment along the Hillsborough River and Garrison Channel.
This next loop also aims to draw in neighborhoods to the west along existing roads — connecting them with each other and “to all the prosperity that’s happening downtown,” said Vik Bhide, the city’s mobility department director.
“This project is going to transform the west side of the river,” said Brandie Miklus, the city’s infrastructure and mobility program coordinator.
The West River project will stretch north to Columbus Drive and run along Rome Avenue to the west, impacting some the city’s transforming neighborhoods.
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Just north of downtown and Interstate 275 across from Blake High School, public housing has made way for new high rises and plans for a major grocery store — believed to be Florida’s premier grocer, Publix — in what has been a food desert.
South of the interstate and west of the 25-acre riverside Julian B. Lane Park — which in recent years got a $35.5 million makeover — apartments and condos have sprouted in a west-of-downtown community with restaurants and a neighborhood Duckweed Urban Grocery.
Part of the new project will also include some already-existing linear green space in an oak-shaded riverside neighborhood called Ridgewood Park.
“What (the project) does is connect neighborhoods on each side of the interstate, which historically were separated,” said Bhide.
Given the Tampa Bay region’s deadly reputation for pedestrians and cyclists, the project will emphasize safety. Bike paths will be separated from car traffic by concrete curbing wherever possible — part of a city system called “the green spine.” It will include walker-activated flashing pedestrian crossings and improved sidewalks, among other enhancements.
“Right now it’s stressful to walk and bike there,” said Miklus. “So this will be adding to our low-stress bike and walk network.”
The project is also billed in city documents as a pedestrian and bike link between “the disadvantaged communities in the project area” and downtown jobs and services.
While much of the new loop will travel through streets and neighborhoods, more than two miles of it will run directly along the west bank of the Hillsborough River in traditional Riverwalk fashion. That new trail will take walkers, cyclists and runners along the water with the historic University of Tampa campus — which includes one of the city’s most notable buildings with its distinctive moon-topped minarets — and the sprawling Julian B. Lane Park as backdrops.
The project will also include one of the more charming aspects of the current Riverwalk: over-the-water crossings that run underneath car-traffic bridges at Platt and Brorein streets.
A $24 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation will pay for 80 percent of the project, with the rest to be covered by the city. It’s expected to go out for contractor bids this summer and to be completed by the end of 2026, city documents show.
“Tampa’s Riverwalk in just a few years has become such a signature part of the community it’s hard to imagine Tampa without it,” said Mayor Jane Castor. “The project on the west side will be even more transformative, an essential link connecting West Tampa to downtown and other neighborhoods from Hyde Park to Ybor City.”
The existing Riverwalk “spurred over $1 billion in economic activity from 2011 to 2018,” Bhide said. “We fully anticipate and are already seeing it on the west side of the river as well.”
And what’s the future for Tampa’s Riverwalk after this? Bhide said though there are no current plans or funding for extensions, “we do see opportunities to move it further north.”
“Ultimately our aim is to activate the rest of the river up to ZooTampa,” Bhide said. The zoo, at Sligh Avenue near the river, is about five miles north of downtown. “On both sides of the river up to there, we’ll continue to see more and more mixed use development.”