TAMPA — The graffiti painted along downtown’s Hillsborough River seawalls has become as much a feature of Tampa as the skyline above.
But some of those shout-outs left by visiting college rowing teams and fraternities will become a visual nuisance when the newest segment of the Tampa Riverwalk -- the Kennedy Boulevard Plaza -- opens in January.
Mayor Bob Buckhorn has decided the growing collection on the garage below Kiley Gardens and Rivergate Tower has to go.
The seawall and the river below it will become a canvas for a different type of art: a new Lights on Tampa installation scheduled to be revealed in February.
Buckhorn has asked Tampa City Council to approve a agreement with Friends of the Riverwalk to hire a contractor to remove the graffiti. The council will consider that request when it meets today.
“We want the Tampa Riverwalk to be active and engaging and highlight Tampa’s best natural asset, the Hillsborough River,” Buckhorn said in a statement.
Under Buckhorn’s proposal, the city and the Friends will split the $80,000 cost of the project, with the city giving the Friends $40,000 toward the cost.
The three-week removal project will start at the end of this month, according to Buckhorn’s spokeswoman, Ali Glisson.
The new project, designed by Wannemacher Jensen Architects, will light the seawall and the water between it and the Kennedy Plaza walkway starting in 2015. It will be the newest contribution to Lights on Tampa, an ongoing art project that got its start in 2006.
The most recent Lights on Tampa contribution was 2012’s “Agua Luces” art installation, which illuminated downtown’s bridges during the Republican National Convention. The installation continues to light those same bridges today.
Graffiti on the river is a tradition going back decades.
“It predates me, and I’ve been here since 1981,” said Bill Dunlap, coach of the University of Tampa rowing team.
The tags show up when college crew teams visit Tampa to train during the winter and spring.
Dunlap said he discourages his rowers from expressing themselves on the seawalls. Despite that, the Rivergate wall carries a UT mark, along with symbols from Princeton University and the College of William & Mary.
The city works with the Steward’s Foundation, which teaches rowing out of Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park, to police the rowing crews and prevent vandalism, Glisson said.
Crews painted over the graffiti on the Kennedy Boulevard, Brorein and Platt street bridges to provide a blank backdrop for “Agua Luces.”
As he did in 2012, Buckhorn promised on Monday to penalize anyone caught defacing the bridges or seawall after it has been cleared for the art project. Defacing public property is a misdemeanor.