Candidate Bob Buckhorn's promises to improve parks and public spaces had a laser-like focus to their specificity.
He vowed 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.
• Cultivate partnerships with private and community support groups.
As mayor, Buckhorn's parks and public space initiatives have been among the boldest of his administration. But he hasn't always done exactly what he said he was going to do.
Instead, Buckhorn's parks initiatives have been bigger and more ambitious in scope than what he promised as a candidate.
"I took a different path," Buckhorn said in an interview on Nov. 19, 2014. "I think those (separate elements of his campaign promise) would have been baby steps by comparison to what we actually accomplished. When I got here I figured out that the system needed improvement to a much greater degree than I thought."
The list of parks and public space initiatives that Buckhorn didn't promise yet has delivered includes free public WiFi along the Riverwalk and in downtown parks, an easy-access bike rental program with bikes stationed at urban parks and recreational areas, and — in the works — a program allowing people to have alcohol on the Riverwalk.
Nor did Buckhorn promise what has turned out to be a signature strategy he's pursued both inside and outside city parks — his knack for taking pieces of land that were lying unused, sometimes costing the city significant amounts of money to maintain, and finding private sector partners to invest in them and give them new life, often in dramatic ways.
Notably, that's what he did at Water Works Park, where the city spent $7.4 million to create a new active waterfront park, while restaurateur Richard Gonzmart spent another $6 million creating Ulele Native-Inspired Food & Spirits in the old city pumphouse next door.
City-owned property that was costing money, "we got rid of," he said. "Those that were underperforming we tried to increase performance." And dead spaces like the old water works park, which was fenced off, and the long-vacant city pumphouse "we tried to upgrade and create destinations."
Meanwhile, Buckhorn's record on the things he actually promised is uneven, though in several cases consistent with the larger aim of the promise.
Parks advisory board
Buckhorn did not create a parks advisory board made up of residents and businesses from around city parks.
That said, he has involved residents and other stakeholders in the planning for one of his biggest and most ambitious projects: the proposed $20 million redevelopment of Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park.
Over the spring and summer, a city consultant did about 40 interviews with individuals or small groups about the park, then held four public meetings at Blake High School to solicit ideas, get residents to rate various proposals, refine and focus the plan and take opinions in person and in writing. More than 350 people participated.
That kind of public involvement was in keeping with the spirit of his original promise, Buckhorn said.
"What I figured out was that if you created a parks advisory board for every one of the parks in our system, you would create a lot of committees that would have nothing to do, and you would be wasting people's time," he said.
Identify greenway and trail corridors
Unveiled in late 2012, Buckhorn's InVision Tampa plan calls for the creation of the "green spine," an east-west multipurpose trail that links neighborhoods on the east and west sides of the city to the Riverwalk as well as to each other.
As proposed, the trail would run along Cass Street from near N Howard Avenue in West Tampa, north on the Nick Nuccio Parkway into Ybor City and eventually north to Cuscaden Park.
And while the green spine is not proposed to extend south to MacDill Air Force Base or north to New Tampa, city officials say they are adding bike lanes where and when they can. In the past three years, the city has put in more than 22 miles of new bike lanes, twice what previously existed. Plans call for another 35 miles.
In coming months, Tampa officials plan to add on-street parking and a bike lane to Platt Street from S Armenia Avenue to Bayshore Boulevard. Platt's new bike lane will be paired with another planned bike lane along Cleveland Street's westbound traffic.
Also, by next spring, the Selmon Greenway trail under the Lee Roy Selmon expressway is scheduled to open. The same federal transportation grant that's helping to pay for the Riverwalk is covering most of the cost of the 1.7-mile trail under the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway.
Create partnerships with private and community groups
Teaming up with Gonzmart on the Water Works Park/Ulele redevelopment might be the city's highest profile public-private parks partnership, but it's not the only one.
On Aug. 11, 2012, the city partnered 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..
On Oct. 23, 2014, Buckhorn announced a $1 million partnership with the nonprofit Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation to create a synthetic-turf youth baseball field in Sulphur Springs. The city will pay $500,000 toward the new field at Springhill Park Community Center, with the other half coming from the foundation, which builds youth development parks in poor neighborhoods nationwide.
Turn vacant lots into little parks
This is an area where Buckhorn's promise did not turn into new pocket parks, playgrounds or community gardens.
But that doesn't mean he never thinks small. On July 17, 2014, the City Council approved a request from Buckhorn's staff to spend $38,515 to refurbish the Yaacov Agam sculpture Visual Welcome — for years all but hidden next to the ramp into an underground parking garage near Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park — so it can be moved to a more visible spot on Bayshore Boulevard.
While running for mayor, Bob Buckhorn promised a series of initiatives aimed at improving city parks and public spaces. What he delivered hasn't always exactly matched what he promised on the stump. Rather, it's often been more ambitious or consequential. And his accomplishments generally have been consistent with the overall goals and spirit of his promise. In the bigger picture, the differences are minor. We rate this Promise Kept.