Candidate Bob Buckhorn promised to make Tampa's waterfront a central focus of his administration. Mayor Buckhorn has done just that.
Buckhorn talks all the time about the importance of the Hillsborough River and predicts that one day the riverfront will be the center of downtown, not its western edge.
"I'm absolutely convinced that in 10 years when we get done with this planning process and as things start to fill in, that our downtown will be radically different -- radically different -- than what we know now,” he told the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce on March 21. "It will be spread on both sides of the river, there will be live-work-and-play environments on the west bank that will go right from the river all the way to Howard and Armenia” avenues.
Much of that planning is taking place through an ongoing effort facilitated by the Urban Land Institute, a nonprofit education and research group based in Washington, D.C.
Since October, the institute has twice sent groups of experts on real estate development, urban planning, development and related fields to Tampa. In October, one ULI panel gave the city a wide-ranging set of recommendations on improving its downtown, including the river. In February, a second group came and focused on the potential of the river in more detail.
That second group recommended moving the tenants out and demolishing the 682 apartments of the aging North Boulevard Homes public housing complex to create a 40-acre riverfront site for mixed-use, mixed-income development.
The ULI panel focused on a 140-acre area mainly on the south and west bank of the river, north of Interstate 275 and east of Rome Avenue. It has 7,200 feet of river frontage, and more than 80 percent of it is owned by the city, Hillsborough County, School Board or Tampa Housing Authority.
In addition to redeveloping North Boulevard Homes, the group suggested:
• Redeveloping the city's 12-acre wastewater vehicle yard near the river, an idea Buckhorn likes.
• Increasing the density of new housing built in the area from the current 20 to 25 units an acre to at least 60 units an acre. The panel said this change would attract private investment and the kind of stores and services that residents want in a new neighborhood.
• Creating more public access points to the river.
• Capitalizing on immediate opportunities to make the riverfront more active and inviting, such as establishing a farmer's market, incorporating the area into the activities of college rowing teams that already visit Tampa or bringing live performances to the amphitheater at Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park.
At meetings where the Urban Land Institute has presented its findings, the city has brought together local officials, property owners, neighborhood representatives, developers and real estate professionals to participate in the discussion.
There's more: Buckhorn also is pursuing federal funding to finish the Riverwalk. He has brought new programs, like the Mayor's River O'Green Fest on St. Patrick's Day, to Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park. And he is working with a private sector developer in an attempt to redevelop the city's historic Water Works Building as a riverfront restaurant.
As a candidate, Buckhorn promised a focus on the waterfront and a coordinated approach to development there. While there hasn't been a lot of development so far, Buckhorn has hit virtually every point of his plan. Together, his efforts add up to a Promise Kept.