The city of Tampa’s parks system is not surplus property for the local restaurant scene. But you wouldn’t know it at City Hall, which is moving to carve up more public green space in the downtown core for business uses that don’t belong in those parks.
Mayor Jane Castor’s administration unveiled a proposal this month to lease to operators a corner of Lykes Gaslight Square Park to open a cafe. The move comes months after her predecessor removed the benches in the park in the wake of complaints that they were taken over by the homeless.
Whatever the motivation here, a cafe is the last thing Gaslight Square Park needs. While the city has leased space to other restaurants in downtown parks, including Curtis Hixon and the Riverfront, those are huge public spaces where thousands gather on any given weekend. Gaslight Square is a pocket park surrounded by high-rises and busy streets, a shaded oasis amid the concrete and bustle. It’s designed to be a window, a place to pause for a passing moment. Nobody needs another place to buy lattes; the park is surrounded by cafes already. The Tampa City Council showed the same blind spot recently in moving forward on a lease that would allow a restaurant on part of Herman Massey Park, a tiny space on downtown’s north end.
There’s nothing wrong with monetizing portions of certain parks for certain purposes in certain parts of town. But Tampa’s downtown parks are becoming over-run with concrete pavers, clutter and commercial uses that are out of place and out of sync with the park system’s mission in an urban environment. Can we balance food courts with benches and grass?
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