This morning, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, Columbia Restaurant owner Richard Gonzmart and other dignitaries are scheduled to cut the ribbon for Water Works Park, which along with the adjacent Ulele restaurant is likely to bring more focus on the oft-neglected Hillsborough River.
Indeed, we expect a big part of the park’s appeal will be the docks for boaters visiting the park or restaurant north of downtown Tampa.
But the wakes caused by speeding boaters using that stretch of the river could potentially damage watercraft at the docks and, over time, damage the restored waterfront property where the park and restaurant sit.
To protect the property, the Tampa City Council last week decided a no-wake zone now in place farther down the river should be extended about 200 yards to the north of Interstate 275 up to a bend in the river near Ulele. A second vote is required before it becomes law.
We recognize the law will lengthen the time it takes for boaters to reach their destination, but we think the zone should be extended to protect the newly developed properties. It’s a natural progression for the changing face of downtown’s riverfront.
For too long the city turned its back on the river. But no longer. The miles-long riverwalk promenade, Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, the Tampa Museum of Art, and the Straz Center all utilize the waterfront. Plans are underway to refurbish Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park on the west shoreline, and a major condo tower is planned near the Straz. Just recently, the Aloft boutique hotel opened alongside the river.
Many of those properties are protected by the existing no-wake zone from near I-275 south to the channels that feed into Tampa Bay. Boaters in that stretch of the river must run their motors at minimum power. That same protection should be extended to Ulele and Water Works Park to the north.
“The addition of new residents, new boat slips, and a destination restaurant makes it imperative that we slow the boats down,” Buckhorn says.
The refurbished park and the new restaurant, which is opening later this month in the historic Water Works Building, are helping to link downtown with long-neglected neighborhoods to the north.
Eventually, the last piece of the riverwalk will be extended north into the neighborhood. People will be able to walk, jog and bike on an uninterrupted path from Ulele to the Tampa Bay History Center. That will bring people to the riverfront, along with more boaters, paddle boarders and kayakers.
For everyone to live in harmony, and to protect the waterfront property, speeds must be kept at a minimum until arriving at open water to the south, or at the river’s less-developed areas to the north.
The river is fast becoming an integral part of the city, and boaters need to slow down to make way for that progress.