Tampa is known for its Bayshore Boulevard – a 4.5 mile uninterrupted sidewalk used by joggers, cyclists and walkers alike. But soon, Bayshore may have competition from the downtown Riverwalk.
It has taken 40 years and six mayors. Yet, by Thanksgiving 2014, Tampa’s downtown waterfront will be wrapped by a 2-mile continuous walkway.
Tampa’s Riverwalk was first conceived in the 1970s. It was a wooden, pier-like walk funded by people buying planks inscribed with their names.
“I tried to do it (build the Riverwalk) 40 years ago,” former Tampa Mayor Bill Poe said. “I think I put about 10 planks in and I had to buy the planks.”
The Riverwalk is more permanent now, constructed of concrete and brick. Planning and permits for the city project were completed during Mayor Pam Iorio’s term.
“The Riverwalk has been all about opening up the river to the people,” Iorio said.”And that’s what’s been so critical about this project because this is a beautiful asset we have the Hillsborough River.”
Current Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn invited the five previous mayors – Poe, Iorio, Sandy Freedman, Bob Martinez, and Dick Greco - to share in the ceremony and start of construction to complete the project they’d all contributed to.
“This downtown, you will not recognize in 10 years and it will not end on the west bank of the river,” Buckhorn told a crowd at the ceremonial gathering Tuesday in Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park. “This river will be the center of our urban experience largely because of what we’re undertaking today. And it would not have happened without the help of the Obama Administration.”
Construction of the last segment of the Riverwalk is funded in large part by a federal transportation grant of $9.2 million part of the stimulus money. The City of Tampa was one of an estimated 4,000 applicants for the federal grants and only 218 were awarded.
The Riverwalk's final leg is 1460 feet and stretches out over the water from south of the Sheraton Tampa Riverwalk Hotel, under Kennedy Boulevard Bridge, and north to where it reconnects to the shore at Curtis Hixon Riverfront Park.
Buckhorn said he plans to cut the ribbon on the final Riverwalk segment by Thanksgiving 2014.