Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park once again is the people's favorite downtown gathering place, though its turf remains scarred after hosting invitation-only parties beneath a giant-sized tent during the Republican National Convention.
But even without a green luster on its lower lawn, the park was ready for a party Saturday. So were those attending the inaugural Summerfest music festival.
"This whole river area is gorgeous," said former Tampa area resident Lara Zia. Seven years removed from the city, the Kissimmee resident said, "I'm really impressed with the renovations downtown. You can really see the changes."
Regarding bald patches of ground and sand spread atop remaining grass on the lower lawn … "I wondered about that," she said.
City officials summoned a turf expert after the RNC left town about a week ago. The short-term recommendation was a cover of coarse sand. The next step will be to aerate, fertilize, water and see what happens. The estimated $40,000 cost of repairs and new sod will be paid by Jamestown Entertainment, which hosted the GOP parties at Curtis Hixon.
Music, not a scruffy lawn, was what mattered Saturday.
Zia and her friends, Tabitha Thompson and Madalyn Roth, focused on the scheduled appearance of "American Idol" winner David Cook.
Cook was the headliner for the Summerfest, which was sponsored by Irish 31 Pub House & Eatery. The festival began at 1 p.m. and offered a daylong lineup of seven musical acts, including rock singer/songwriter Edwin McCain, NBC's "The Voice" runner-up Juliet Simms and the vocalist for local band "Automatic Loveletter."
A portion of ticket sales were slated to benefit the ALS Association, a nonprofit group that supports research to fight the affliction also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.
Zia has seen Cook perform 15 times; Thompson, who lives in Kentucky, 27 times; and Roth, who lives in Washington, D.C., 18 times.
"He's a genuinely nice person," Zia said. "He's very respectful of his fans." And more importantly, she said, "He's hot."
The trio placed lawn chairs directly in front of the stage and braced for a nearly eight-hour wait for Cook to sing his first note. They unfurled an umbrella and slathered on sunscreen lotion.
Tampa friends Ashley Tanneberger and Stan Klos III spread a blanket on a sandy patch of ground to listen to St. Pete country singer Ashley Lynn Nicol. They tried to keep their dog, Chance, cool with a dish of water.
On the upper lawn dozens of people tossed bean bags in a contest offering $3,000 in prizes.
Hillsborough County resident Cathy Norris tried the sport for the first time Saturday. She and her husband, Kevin, have pledged to see more of Tampa and the park was their first excursion to that end. "I love it," she said. "It has beautiful surroundings."
Orlando resident Darrell Palama, a serious contender in the bean bag competition, looked at the park's lower lawn with a critical eye. "It's in transition," he said.