I remember well my halcyon days of youth, strolling alongside downtown Tampa’s Hillsborough River, thinking to myself … okay, that’s a lie. You see, there were no such days.
Growing up, there was no way to really enjoy the river in downtown Tampa.
Because the river was encased in structures blockading almost any view, the closest we might associate with enjoying it was watching the Gasparilla flotilla escort its pennant-adorned pirate ship to the then Curtis Hixon Convention Center (now Curtis Hixon Park). This was before the Crosstown (Selmon) Expressway existed, allowing the drunken crew of community elders (in pirate regalia) short passage up the river. Good thing they weren’t driving.
Visitors are surprised to hear that despite all the waterfront property surrounding downtown Tampa, there has traditionally been very little public access to it – save for the resplendent Bayshore Boulevard and a few pockets of access here and there.
Take me to the river.
To remedy this wrong, then Mayor Bill Poe conceived of the Riverwalk in 1975. The Riverwalk was built segment by segment over the years and finally “completed” in 2015 when a major over-water segment was built creating new waterfront property around and under Kennedy Boulevard. I quote “completed” as this was the first time you could walk (jog or bike) from the beginning of the Riverwalk at the corner of Channelside Boulevard and Beneficial Drive without interruption all the way to a spot I remember just beyond the Straz Performing Arts Center. A bit more of Tampa’s Riverwalk is planned, under construction, or ready-to-be-enjoyed extending to and beyond the newish Water Works Park and Ulele Restaurant – with true finishing touches planned to incorporate the just-underway development of The Heights project at the river’s bend. Here’s the path in total.
The Riverwalk experience has many charms. From beautiful views of the river, places to stop and have a drink, water taxis, views of collegiate rowing crews, statues of historical figures from Tampa’s past, public art, events, and more.
Then there are the inscribed pavers. While not exactly a novel idea, purchasing commemorative pavers is proving to be an excellent way for our city to reveal its soul.
Taking a stroll on the Riverwalk, you’ll find some of what you’d expect expressed in the pavers.
Memorials to lost loved ones.
Honors to mothers …
… and fathers.
Words of encouragement.
Shout outs to BFFs, who might remain so by being relentlessly flexible.
There’s the occasional advertisement.
And … well … I have no idea what this means.
When you see how so many have already expressed so much joy in downtown tampa’s remarkable, walkable treasure, you can’t help but want to be a part of it yourself. If you love this city, it’s an easy way to leave a lasting legacy for those who will come after us.
It’s taken 40 years for the city to connect the dots. Now go see where the path takes you.