Big Plans Aim To Attract You To Downtown Tampa's Riverwalk

Nestled comfortably and conveniently along the Hillsborough River, the Tampa Riverwalk will one day provide a totally pedestrian friendly connection from Tampa's Port and Channelside District to Tampa Heights, linking seven city parks and five cultural institutions as well as a variety of eating and shopping destinations along the way.

"The Riverwalk is an opportunity to open the waterfront to the people by providing a wonderful environment to enjoy events along the water," says Roger Kurz, executive director at Friends of the Riverwalk.. "The project is one of the keys to revitalizing downtown Tampa to an enjoyable place to live, learn, work and play."

The current Riverwalk allows visitors to enjoy a nearly one-mile-long southeast portion spanning from Channelside to the Tampa Convention Center and USF Park, featuring a 550-image mural of the Hillsborough River. The other 1.3 miles -- donning a $10 million price tag -- is currently under construction with a to-be-determined completion date.

Why so much investment in a Riverwalk?

"Tampa needs its own signature place that people can refer to and recognize," says Ferdian Jap, former project development specialist for the Riverwalk. "Currently, when visitors come to Tampa, there really isn't a prime destination to go to besides Busch Gardens. We are extremely lucky that the majority of our main destinations are already located on the waterfront in downtown Tampa, so why not take advantage of it?"

From the cruiseship terminals at Channelside to the Tampa Bay History Center to the St. Pete Times Forum to the Tampa Convention Center to the Tampa Museum of Art, the soon-to-open Glazer Children's Museum, the Straz Center for the Performing Arts and the Patel Conservatory, downtown Tampa nurtures some of the city's most popular destinations -- both for tourists and for residents.

No single place, however, is capable of attracting people the way that all those places combined can do as a major destination that defines Tampa, Jap says.

Building An Even Greater Connection

Kurz sees the Riverwalk as having a larger role than connecting downtown hotspots.

"Our waterways comprise a key community asset. Essentially, the Riverwalk will open the waterfront to the people, allowing them to enjoy events along the water. It will be a catalyst for economic development, as well as for tourism in Tampa," Kurz says. "Additionally, the Riverwalk plays a large role in restoring the natural shoreline and filtering storm water from the city streets."

As Friends of the Riverwalk studied various famous riverwalks from Chicago to San Antonio to Ft. Lauderdale and back, they narrowed down all of the interesting elements they came across, incorporating the latest and greatest into the Tampa Riverwalk.

Some of the Riverwalk's anticipated features are like nothing you have ever seen. Apart from simply placing a walkway over the river, allowing guests to "walk on water," Kurz, Jap and others envision much more.

Imagine what it would be like to see a concert mid-water? The Riverwalk's got you covered. One of the expected features of the $27 million project will encompass what it literally means to open the river to the people.

"While I was with Friends of the Riverwalk, I was working on a project which is a floating stage that can be moved up and down the river to be used for concerts and events," Jap says. "Imagine a headlinder concert for New Year's Eve in the middle of the channel with thousands and thousands of people watching from the Riverwalk, Bayshore, Harbor Island and Davis Island."

A project within a project, the cleverly named "Aquatheatre" is just one of the many anticipated highlights of the Riverwalk; a six-mile pedestrian bridge connecting Bayshore Boulevard to the Riverwalk may also be in the works.??But mega-floating theaters and lengthy bridges aren't the only things Friends of the Riverwalk has in store.

"One of the things I'm really looking forward to is the Riverwalk's proposed 'living aquarium,' " Jap says. "The water around a section of the Riverwalk will be installed with artificial reef-like structures for fish and wildlife to flourish along."

The makeshift habitat will include several non-intrusive lights, allowing visitors to see through the water at night.

"How awesome is that!" Jap says with enthusiasm.

Seeing What's Next On The Horizon

An enormous project, it's no surprise that Friends of the Riverwalk has set a lot of goals associated with downtown Tampa's latest addition.

But the list is longer than you might think.

"Just imagine if the new Rays stadium is built in the Channel District," Jap says. "The Riverwalk will become synonymous to Tampa and people won't just abandon it after work as they do now -- downtown will become alive after 5 p.m."

Jap believes this sudden boom in visitors will eventually lead to many more people wanting to live downtown, not only putting the downtown area at the top of Tampa's attraction list, but making it a prime spot to buy or rent a home, as well.

The Riverwalk should help foster a strong sense of community, improve mobility and increase public access to the downtown area, and create and preserve user-friendly greenways and public spaces -- just for starters.

"The Riverwalk will be a tourist and resident destination that cannot be missed if you really want to experience Tampa," Kurz says. "When you have an out-of-town visitor, we want you to say, 'We must do the Riverwalk or we haven't experienced Tampa!' "

Creating Endless Possibilities

Several events -- concerts, art shows, theater productions -- are already taking place along the Riverwalk, attracting significant crowds rarely seen in downtown in recent years.

"The main goal right now is to complete the connection of the north and south portions," Jap says. "After that, events will need to be planned on a regular basis."

For example, movies on the lawn or regular performances for local aspiring talent.

Kurz sees the Riverwalk as an essential part of any event being planned in Tampa. With the Gasparilla Pirate Fest, 4th of July Fireworks and Christmas Boat Parade already being experienced along the Riverwalk, high-status events such as the Republican National Convention will also plan events along the project.

There's virtually something planned for everyone.

Children will be able to enjoy the playgrounds at any of the seven parks connected by the project, young adults can thrive off of the nightlife in Channelside and everyone -- young to old -- can take a leisurely walk or bicycle ride along the river.

"Although some of our events may be more specifically targeted, the overall aim is to be multigenerational," Kurz says. "We recently conducted a Riverwalk tour for a senior group and we just hosted a Riverwalk for Dads fundraising event which brought in fathers with kids of all ages."

Essentially, the Riverwalk will become associated with all things Tampa, and boosters like Jap have no doubts about it: "If you build it, they will come!"

Alexis Quinn Chamberlain, a Florida native and freelance writer, can often be found making vegan food or picnicing and rendezvousing with her boyfriend and dog at Lettuce Lake or Curtis Hixon Park. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.
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