Tampa’s version of Central Park gets its finishing touches before Friday’s debut

“Ripple Gates” by artist Thomas Sayre is a feature of the new Julian B. Lane Park, opening to the public this week.[ ALESSANDRA DA PRA | Times]

TAMPA — Huge piles of mulch remain to be spread. The bocce ball court isn’t ready yet. And dozens of other little details remain for construction workers to complete in the final days before Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park opens to the public.

On Monday, Mayor Bob Buckhorn said the signature public works project of his two-term administration was 99 percent ready to go for its Mother’s Day weekend debut, when concerts are scheduled by the Florida Orchestra, the U.S. Navy Band and pop act Third Eye Blind, which the mayor referred to initially as “Third Blind Eye.”

Spokeswoman Ashley Bauman corrected him, and Buckhorn said that’s why he has “hipsters” working for him.

“I wanted the Commodores,” Buckhorn quipped, referring the funk-soul Motown act.

But attracting millenials from downtown and Seminole Heights to the west side of the Hillsborough River is serious business for the city, which helped pay for the $35.5 million project with about $15 million from Tampa’s settlement with BP over the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.

They should be attracted by the adult soccer leagues, concerts, a state-of-the-art boat house where kayaks and paddle-boards eventually will be offered for rent, and 25 acres to chill, city Parks and Recreation officials said.

But young professionals are just part of the target audience. A playground and splash pad will draw families, including those from nearby public housing, Buckhorn said.

Basketball courts and playing fields are designed to encourage people from across racial and class lines to rub shoulders, he said.

“Green spaces and public parks are the great equalizers,” Buckhorn said during a break in a media tour of the park Monday morning. “You don’t have to buy a ticket. You just come with your family and create memories.”

Buckhorn said Water Works Park, opened in 2014, is a good example of how splash pads can bring diverse groups of people together.

Construction started in June 2016 and the original 18- month schedule stretched to nearly two years after unexpected debris and “bad dirt” slowed the city’s progress. The park’s price tag also riled City Council members last summer when they reluctantly voted for a property tax increase, grumbling that they wouldn’t have approved so much money for Julian B. Lane had they known it would contribute to a higher tax bill.

Now that it’s nearly done, the mayor said, people will remember the legacy, not the drama.

“It’s a game changer,” Buckhorn said.

The mayor will deliver his annual State of the City speech from the main stage near the water on Friday morning, kicking off a weekend that city officials expect will see a packed park. Depending on when the Tampa Bay Lightning play, another celebration might be added to the park’s full schedule of events, said Bauman, the city spokeswoman.

The Mayor’s Mac n’ Cheese Throwdown on Saturday and concerts on Sunday will headline a bevy of free family-friendly activities at the park.

The public investment in the park is already spurring private redevelopment in North Hyde Park, the mayor said, adding that its presence will activate the west side of the river.

“Its taking the best asset we have as a city, which is that water, and creating a place of destiny,” Buckhorn. “What will happen here is what happened on the east side.”

Contact Charlie Frago at cfrago@tampabay.com or (727)893-8459. Follow@CharlieFrago.

Source Article