TAMPA, Fla. -- Just one week after the City of Tampa unveiled Riverfront Park. a 25-acre public space which Mayor Bob Buckhorn referred to as a “jewel” on the west bank of the Hillsborough River, the Tampa Bay Lightning watch-party for Game Four of the Eastern Conference Championship was being held on the east bank at Curtis Hixon Park.
Days earlier, Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park held its grand opening with 25,000 fans attending an outdoor concert.
While the show was proof the $35 million public space can handle a big crowd, it also exposed a major shortcoming.
“On the big events, yeah, parking will be a challenge,” said Buckhorn. “I mean, we know it.”
Buckhorn concedes the new park has parking issues during major events, which some people have even taken to social media to complain about.
Riverfront Park has a couple of hundred parking spaces of its own, but that hardly compares with the thousands of spaces available at lots and garages in downtown Tampa close to Curtis Hixon Park.
It might explain why, for now, Curtis Hixon Park remains a go-to venue for big crowd events.
“People are accustomed to Curtis Hixon Park. They know how to get there if they’re not familiar with downtown. It’s easy for the folks to come out of the office buildings and to walk down there,” said Buckhorn, “But I think I’m over time you’re going to see Riverfront Park become just as active.”
Buckhorn says Riverfront Park was designed to encourage folks to get out and exercise. Visitors can park at Blake High School to the north on weekends, find a spot downtown and walk over the bridges, grab an Uber, or even a water taxi.
But even with those options, park visitors like Penny Clinkert say, “It’s gonna need more parking.”
Chip Santiago, also visiting Julian B. Lane Park for the first time Thursday agreed a watch-party could present a parking challenge.
“I don’t know about the parking," he said. "In Ybor it was pretty packed and they shut down the street. So, while I’m pretty sure Curtis Hixson can handle all that, here, I don’t know yet. It’s too new."
Visitors might also be hesitant to park in the neighborhood near Riverfront Park. The area is bordered by a shuttered public housing project and subsidized housing to the west.
Clinkert, who lives in the neighborhood, says it can still get dangerous after dark.
“It’s just, that time of night I wouldn’t come out here. No,” she said.
Buckhorn says eventually the park will create investment, which will attract higher-end development, which in turn will bring safer parking options.
“As we rebuild the public housing complex into an environment that is safe and good for families, as we open up the west side of the Hillsborough River, I think you’re going to see the transformation of West Tampa in ways that most people haven’t even imagined,” said the mayor.
A spokesman for the Tampa Bay Lightning says there has been discussion regarding future watch parties and the possibility of utilizing Riverfront Park, but that certain things need to happen before that occurs.
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