Tampa seeking federal funds for Riverwalk project
TAMPA - Mayor Bob Buckhorn is turning to Uncle Sam for money to complete two final segments of Tampa's decades-old Riverwalk project. The city has applied for $10 million in federal stimulus funds to connect two final gaps in the 2.5-mile pedestrian walkway: one from MacDill Park to Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, and another from Curtis Hixon to the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts. The grant money would come from the U.S. Department of Transportation's so-called TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) program, which provides funding for transit upgrades, including roads, bridges, and pedestrian and bicycle paths. Congress recently pumped $500 million into the program for 2012. Competition for the money is intense, with about $14.1 billion in funding requests already submitted by communities across the country. Buckhorn plans to travel to Washington, D.C., next week to personally lobby federal officials for a slice of the available funds."There's a lot of competition for those dollars, but the mayor will be making the rounds, talking to anyone who might help," said Santiago Corrada, Buckhorn's chief of staff. Corrada said the city should know by the beginning of the year if it will get the money. Currently, construction is under way on a two-part, $3.5 million segment of the walkway. One portion will extend it from the south side of Brorein Street to the southern side of the CapTrust building at Whiting Street; the other will connect the path to MacDill Park. The extension, when completed by early next year, will allow pedestrians to walk from downtown all the way to the Channel District without taking detours on side streets. The 1,460-foot MacDill to Curtis Hixon segment, estimated at $10 million, would involve building a walkway extending into the river and under Kennedy Boulevard bridge. The segment from Curtis Hixon Park to the arts center is estimated at about $2.2 million. Under the terms of the grant program, the city would required to match 20 percent of the costs, which would be covered by existing grant money and other local funding sources. Once those two segments are complete, the city plans to focus on the final mile-long portion of the project running from the performing arts center to Tampa Heights. Developers of the Tampa Heights project built a 400-foot walkway across from the park but, falling victim to the housing crisis, didn't connect to the city's portion of the project. Conceived by former Mayor Bill Poe in the mid-1970s, Riverwalk has been plagued by a series of setbacks caused by a lack of funding and problems acquiring private land. Several successive mayors made contributions to the walkway, earmarking money or adding segments, but the project didn't gain momentum until Pam Iorio took office. Iorio oversaw the design and construction of key portions of the pathway but was forced to turn her attention to wrestling with the city's troubled finances during her final term. Ultimately, the project, which is nearly 50 percent complete, will cost about $34 million and run from Channelside Bay Plaza to the arts center and eventually to the North Boulevard bridge in Tampa Heights. That's less than original estimates of $40 million, which included a number of amenities that have since been removed from the project. Buckhorn, who made completing the Riverwalk project one of his campaign pledges, has earmarked $810,000 in gas tax proceeds for the project in the fiscal year 2012 budget. He has also prodded the Port Authority's board of directors to agree last month to study a long-stalled plan to extend Riverwalk through the Channel District and Port of Tampa cruise facilities. While the city won't likely have the project constructed in time for next year's Republican National Convention, Buckhorn said he is committed to completing it before the end of his first term in 2015. "We're going to get it done, one way or another," he said recently.
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