With a little help, Kiley Gardens outside the Rivergate Tower on the Hillsborough River could become the shaded sanctuary it was intended to be when built in 1988.
Obviously, the cash-strapped city can't spend money on the park, but there are other ways it can help.
Designed by internationally renowned landscape architect Dan Kiley, the gardens' intricate checkerboard of trees and concrete aimed to please the eye and soothe the spirit of visitors.
Kiley and Harry Wolf, the architect who designed the 31-story adjacent tower often known as the Beer Can building, worked together on a geometric design that would connect all the elements.
But the gardens were plagued by structural problems from the start. The wrong trees were used. Kiley wanted dwarf crape myrtle, but full-sized myrtles were planted. They grew too dense, and their roots pushed up the pavers, making walking treacherous.
The fountains leaked into the parking lot below.
The two-acre gardens fell into disrepair, were neglected and often ridiculed.
But the Friends of Kiley Gardens, many of whom are architects with an appreciation for the unfulfilled promise of Kiley's design, took up the cause.
A few years ago Mayor Pam Iorio's administration spent $4.2 million repairing what had become an eyesore.
The city's investment got rid of the trees, stopped the leaks and stabilized the structure. One can walk through the park without tripping, but there is no shade, and the gardens, while much improved, still are not what the late Kiley intended.
Former City Councilwoman Linda Saul-Sena says the final steps are planting trees — smaller ones in planters, so roots don't cause problems — and installing fountains.
It would cost about $250,000 for the trees and $200,000 for the fountains.
The city, which has done the necessary structural work, has far more pressing priorities.
But if Kiley Gardens were designated as a city landmark, it would become eligible for various private and public grants. Saul–Sena promises an aggressive private fundraising campaign once the designation is achieved.
The Historic Preservation Commission recommends the landmark designation, but city council gives final approval.
Council members, scheduled to discuss the matter today, should initiate the process.
One doesn't have to care about the mathematical formulas used in the gardens' design to recognize it offers downtown Tampa a unique waterfront feature.
City leaders should give Kiley Gardens' private champions a chance to fulfill Kiley's vision.