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Monday, May 21, 2018
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Editorial: Graffiti should make way for riverwalk lights display

The bold graffiti dotting the seawall along the Hillsborough River has been a staple of downtown Tampa for decades.

Motorists driving over the river on the Kennedy Boulevard bridge can see the messages left behind by college rowing teams practicing on the southern end of the river. Although illegal, it has been tolerated by the city because it’s an expression of college spirit and is something unique to Tampa. But that doesn’t mean it’s deserving of preservation when a better, higher use for a portion of the seawall is being proposed.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn wants to erase the graffiti along a 650-foot section of the seawall from Kennedy Boulevard north toward Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park and install lights below the water’s surface that will change color when pedestrians and cyclists move along the Riverwalk.

It’s an idea worth supporting. The lighting project will offer an artistic experience for Riverwalk visitors, and the rowers will still be able to express themselves on other sections of the seawall unaffected by the lighting project.

But that didn’t stop the Tampa City Council from delaying its approval of Buckhorn’s request for $40,000 toward the cost of removing the graffiti. Council members said they want to get more public input before deciding whether to erase the graffiti, which some council members consider art. But it isn’t art. It’s graffiti that promotes college rowing teams or, in some instances, fraternities.

This isn’t that different from the Bro Bowl skateboarding park that offered an experience unique to Tampa but that didn’t merit preservation when the city designed a much better use for that property. In that case, a small group of impassioned supporters stubbornly ignored a reasonable compromise offer and managed to delay for months the work on Perry Harvey Sr. Park that will honor the city’s African-American heritage.

Let’s hope the City Council isn’t swayed by a small but passionate group of graffiti supporters, and that they see the bigger picture here is about enhancing the experience for Riverwalk visitors along that section of the river. The lighting is supported by the nonprofit Friends of the Riverwalk, which has agreed to match the city’s expense and spend $40,000 toward the project.

There’s no question the graffiti has added a splash of color to the city’s urban core over the years. But the mayor isn’t asking for the graffiti to be scrubbed along the entirety of the seawall. He wants to create a far better use for a section of the seawall, and the council should provide the funds to make it happen.

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