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Friday, Sep 19, 2014
Joe Henderson Columns

Henderson: Tampa could follow Savannah's lead

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I tend to shy away from "what I did on my summer vacation" columns because they can be the journalistic equivalent of sitting through someone else's home movies. In some states, I think you can be prosecuted for that.

Some travel tales are worth retelling, though, because of what we can learn back home. And those charged with developing the largely unpainted canvas that is Tampa's Riverwalk could learn a lot by what is happening along the water in Savannah. I couldn't help but notice that during a short getaway last week to that historic Georgia seaport.

"I agree," said Troy Manthey, owner of Yacht Starship Dining Cruises in Tampa.

"Water is our message. Our river is our biggest asset."

v ? v

Savannah's downtown river area was filled with diners, shoppers and tourists well into the evening, and this was on a weeknight. There are boat cruises, tour buses, plenty of places to stop and refresh, and all with the city's rich history woven throughout.

A short walk from the river puts you in lots of green space, with parks and monuments close by. The monuments show the visitor that Savannah is no ordinary city.

We're already following that lead along Tampa's evolving Riverwalk with the series of monuments to important local historic figures. It's a great start.

Taking a peek at Savannah gives a glimpse of what it could look like here when the walk is fully developed.

"What any good riverwalk needs is animation, a reason to be there," Tampa Downtown Partnership President Christine Burdick said.

I ran the notion of the Riverwalk as an unpainted canvas past Burdick.

She agreed, but added, "We're hearing from more vendors now who want be part of it. It's a great opportunity. There is a realization among people that we're actually going to have a Riverwalk."

It will take more than just slapping up a bunch of bars and places to eat.

v ? vSavannah had a buzz.

Tour buses ferried people around. Tour boats cruised the Savannah River. It created a sense that this was a lively place.

Something else to be learned?

"Water taxis would be a very big game-changer for us," Manthey said. "Or downtown tour trolleys. These wouldn't be just for the transit of people. The operators would tell the story of the city."

In a way, the fact it has taken so long to get the Riverwalk moving could prove to be a blessing.

Planners have the opportunity to hand-pick the right mix of restaurants, attractions and culture.

You don't want to overdo it on bars and burger joints like San Antonio did along its river - which is more like a streamwalk.

You want to make sure folks have a way to easily get around.

You need shade (or water misters).

You need a seamless connection between downtown, the Channel District and Ybor City.

No place is perfect, but Savannah has done it mostly right.

Tampa has a chance to do the same.

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