TAMPA - Free wireless Internet service should soon be coming to Tampa's major parks. Mayor Bob Buckhorn put out a call Tuesday morning for companies to bid on installing wireless Internet access in the city's major downtown parks. The bid request covers the Riverwalk, Water Works Park, Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park, Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park and Cotanchobee Fort Brooke Park. The project to put Wi-Fi in the parks is Buckhorn's second effort to expand wireless access on city property.
In February, the mayor announced the installation of seven Wi-Fi Internet access points around the city, including the city council chambers in Old City Hall and the lobbies of the city's municipal office building, development services office, Tampa Police Department and solid waste department. All those sites were selected because they attract a lot of daily visitors, city officials said at the time. The city paid about $9,500 for the gear and installation for that system, which will continue to cost the city about $5,000 a year in maintenance. For the Wi-Fi in the parks, city officials say they're looking for an experienced vendor that can pay for the downtown wireless service from online advertising or by charging for service elsewhere in the city, according to the bid documents. Christine Burdick, president of the Tampa Downtown Partnership, said Buckhorn's announcement closes the deal on an idea that has been floating around for a while. "There has been talk about how ... downtown could be wireless for several years," Burdick said. "What it'll do is extend the reason to use the parks and the Riverwalk." Free public Wi-Fi also marks Tampa as a place technologically savvy young people will want to live, she said. "We have to be conscious of making the city as cool and as accessible to everybody as we can," she said. In a statement accompanying the bid announcement, Buckhorn said he expects the free Wi-Fi to help draw more people to downtown's parks. It also will be an amenity for people living nearby, he said. "I want people of all ages and background to come downtown and be able to work and play at the same time," Buckhorn said. The deadline for submitting bids is 2:30 p.m. July 20. firstname.lastname@example.org (813) 259-7871 Twitter: @kwiatrowskiTBO