Lots of parks projects, though not necessarily the initiatives that were promised
Bob Buckhorn promised voters a series of initiatives to improve Tampa's parks system, and as mayor, this is an area where he's been active.
The thing is, what Buckhorn promised has not made it onto his parks and rec to-do list.
Recall: during the campaign Buckhorn promised to:
• Create a Parks Advisory Board.
• Identify corridors for a greenway/trail from MacDill Air Force Base to New Tampa.
• Seek to transform undeveloped lots into playgrounds, pocket parks and community gardens.
• Develop partnerships with private and community groups to bring about parks improvements.
In his first year, Buckhorn sought to bring a restaurant to Water Works Park, which the city is redeveloping, created the St. Patrick's Day Mayor's River O'Green Fest at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park and welcomed food trucks to Lykes Gaslight Square Park. When it came to enhancing open spaces more generally, he persuaded Tampa Electric and Peoples Gas to provide more than $300,000 to light up four Tampa bridges at night and launched an "Opportunity Corridors” initiative to improve landscaping and decorative lighting along major roads into downtown.
In his second year, Buckhorn's administration:
• Reduced recreation fees for non-city residents, park shelter rentals, gym rentals and charges to hold tournaments and events at city facilities. The idea was to encourage more participation in parks and rec programs and, through the added numbers, generate more revenue.
• Teamed up with Humana health care, the KaBOOM! nonprofit organization, the V.M. Ybor Neighborhood Association and more than 200 volunteers to design and build a $100,000 playground at Ragan Park.
• Had serious discussions with the Jewish Community Center about putting a 10,000-square-foot city art studio and visual arts center inside the renovated Fort Homer Hesterly Armory, which is expected to become the Jewish Community Center South. If Tampa officials secure the space, it could become home to programs now located at the city's Hyde Park Art Studio, half of which is condemned and boarded-up.
• Issued an invitation to architectural or engineering firms to help the city create a master plan for what is expected to be a three-year, $10.5 million redevelopment of Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park. The firm that the city selects is expected to make sure that the public is involved in the planning process.
Buckhorn also tried to work with a nonprofit foundation to bring a privately financed $31 million museum with a collection from the arts and crafts movement to a spot next to Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, but the foundation's leader broke off negotiations after finding the city's contract terms unacceptable.
The KaBOOM! playground project was consistent with Buckhorn's campaign promise to develop partnerships with private groups to improve parks, but that's the only spot where Buckhorn's parks initiatives overlap with his campaign promises.
In a Feb. 26, 2013, interview with PolitiFact Florida, Buckhorn said the idea of creating a parks advisory board is "one of those that, in hindsight, I'm not sure makes sense.”
"Our folks are well-grounded in the communities that their parks are located in,” he said. "We get plenty of input from our customers. I'm not sure that having an additional advisory board does anything other than muddy the waters.”
Buckhorn did repeat his commitment to making sure that people who live near and use Riverfront Park would have a say in the discussion about its redevelopment. In 2012, Buckhorn's musings about maybe bringing a waterfront restaurant to the park — an idea he has since abandoned — alarmed some residents of West Riverfront.
"Before we do anything at Riverfront or any of the other parks, we're going to have an ongoing dialogue with the people who are affected by it,” Buckhorn said, adding that includes West Riverfront's neighborhood association as well as the University of Tampa and the Tampa Preparatory School.
Buckhorn's list of parks initiatives is impressive and growing. But because a part of his campaign promise on parks was focused on citizen participation, and because redevelopment plans for Riverfront Park already have stirred up a few of its neighbors, we believe Buckhorn has work remaining here. This promise remains In the Works.
Interview with Mayor Bob Buckhorn, Feb. 26, 2013
Tampa Bay Times, "Tampa reduces parks and recreation fees,” June 11, 2012, accessed March 22, 2013
Tampa Bay Times, "Art collector ends talks on new museum, restaurant for Tampa riverfront,” Nov. 2, 2012, accessed March 22, 2013
Tampa Bay Times, "Tampa looking at renovated armory for city art studio,” Jan. 28, 2013, accessed March 22, 2013
Tampa Bay Times, "Tampa takes first step toward redeveloping Riverfront Park,” March 16, 2013, accessed March 22, 2013
Ambitious projects in the pipeline
During his campaign for mayor, Bob Buckhorn made an overarching promise -- to create a series of initiatives to improve parks -- and filled in the details with proposals to create a Parks Advisory Board, a greenway or trail from MacDill Air Force Base to New Tampa, and playgrounds, pocket parks and community gardens on vacant lots.
Since becoming mayor, Buckhorn has taken significant steps to improve Tampa's parks and public spaces, but his boldest ideas have not been the ones he outlined during the campaign.
Instead, so far Buckhorn has made with biggest splash with initiatives to:
• Request private-sector proposals to redevelop the city's historic Water Works Building as a part of an ongoing project to restore the city's 5-acre Water Works Park, which is a few blocks north of the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts. He chose Columbia Restaurant owner Richard Gonzmart and Bill Rain of Metro Bay Real Estate, who proposed a seafood restaurant, chophouse and oyster bar with an outdoor cafe overlooking the Hillsborough River. The city and the developer are currently negotiating a development agreement for the project.
• Persuade Tampa Electric and Peoples Gas to provide more than $300,000 to light up four Tampa bridges -- the Platt Street bridge, Brorein Street bridge, Kennedy Boulevard bridge and either the CSX railroad bridge or the Cass Street bridge -- at night starting this summer. The city is hiring artist Tracey Dear, who illuminated the bridges in Chicago, as well as the Wrigley Building there, to do the project, called Agua Luces, or Spanish for "water lights.” Dear was selected through a juried process for the original Lights on Tampa program in 2006, but his idea did not come to fruition then. Buckhorn revived it after taking office and approached Tampa Electric for help.
• Launch an "Opportunity Corridors” initiative to improve landscaping and decorative lighting along major routes into and out of downtown.The city is starting with a beautification this summer of Ashley Drive from the bottom of the Interstate 275 exit ramp to Tyler Street. The project will bring new accent lighting, plus colorful ground plants and flowering trees to the road. Buckhorn said the city will make a "four-year commitment" to bring similar improvements to Channelside Drive, Nebraska Avenue and other streets. Buckhorn says the goal is to make the streets more inviting, both to pedestrians and prospective businesses.
Along with these high-profile projects, Buckhorn's administration has carried forward with a variety of smaller parks and greenway projects, some already in the works before he became mayor, that are consistent with the nuts-and-bolts details of this promise. And his administration has working relationships with parks advocacy groups. But there is no action so far on the Parks Advisory Board he promised.
Buckhorn has delivered on the headline of his promise to launch a series of parks and public space initiatives. These are significant, ambitious projects. Still, his follow-through does not touch on everything he discussed in the fine print of his original campaign promise. If he finishes the list, we will revisit the rating. For now, it is In the Works.
Interview with Mayor Bob Buckhorn, Feb. 28, 2012
Email interviews with Ali Glisson, city director of public affairs, March 27-29, 2012, and Bob McDonaugh, city administrator of economic opportunity, March 28, 2012
Tampa Bay Times, "Columbia Restaurant owner picked to renovate Tampa"s historic Water Works Building,” Jan. 26, 2012
Tampa Bay Times, "Just in time for the Republican National Convention, Tampa will light up four downtown bridges,” Jan. 18, 2012
Tampa Bay Times, "Tampa to do Ashley Drive makeover ahead of Republican National Convention,” Feb. 2, 2012