TAMPA — As the Kennedy Plaza segment of the Tampa Riverwalk comes together in the heart of downtown, it’s easy to forget the Riverwalk won’t actually be finished when that segment opens in December or January.
There’s still the Doyle Carlton segment to build.
That piece will run from the Straz Center for the Performing Arts north to Water Works Park, passing under the Laurel Street bridge and Interstate 275 along the way.
The city already has the money — $4.3 million from a federal transportation grant that is building Kennedy Plaza. Renderings are done and designs are underway, according to city spokeswoman Ali Glisson.
If all goes as planned, people should be able to ride, run or saunter uninterrupted 2.4 miles from Water Works Park to the Tampa Bay History Center sometime in late 2015 or early 2016.
Today, the longest unbroken segment of the Riverwalk is a little over a mile, ending at MacDill Park in the shadow of the Regions Bank tower.
Friday morning, Kadine Metellus of Temple Terrace, a receptionist at a law firm in the Regions building, settled on a Riverwalk bench in the cool of the tower’s shadow to take a break and read a bit. A breeze blew off the river.
“I come out here, and I use it to read. I also use it to take my afternoon walks,” Metellus said. “It’s good to come out here during a stressful day.”
North of MacDill Park, the Riverwalk is disjointed chunks — a segment through Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, another alongside the Straz.
Getting to the edge of Water Works Park, which will open to the public Aug. 12, takes fancy footwork and patience.
At the south end of the Straz segment, cafe tables and chairs sit out on the seldom-used walkway. A sign promises a future segment will pass under the Cass Street drawbridge — a plan that has been dropped in favor of going overland across Gasparilla Drive and the CSX rail line.
Intown/Framework, the developers of the planned Residences at the Riverwalk apartment tower, have promised to build that segment of the Riverwalk in conjunction with their project.
At the north end of the city-owned Straz property, the Riverwalk ends abruptly.
Grass, scrubs and palmettos line the riverbank between the seawall and Doyle Carlton Drive. Seagulls rest on the concrete bollards separating pedestrians from the river’s edge.
Sure-footed walkers can thread their way along the foot-wide seawall or tread lightly across the landscaping.
Anyone else has to take to the nearby sidewalk and cross over Laurel Street in what remains a fairly quiet corner of downtown.
Plans call for the Riverwalk running beneath the Laurel Street bridge, with a cantilevered ledge to provide enough room for two lanes of pedestrian traffic.
Friday, the space beneath the bridge contained three cardboard sleeping pads stashed in the narrow gap between the bottom of the bridge and the concrete supports beneath it. The air smelled of cigarette smoke.
Designs for the Riverwalk block off the underside of the bridge apart from the Riverwalk. The metal grating will carry a sign identifying Laurel Street.
North of Laurel Street, Water Works Park comes into sight just beyond the looming Interstate 275 bridge.
The area under the bridge is an active construction site as the Department of Transportation continues widening the interstate between the Hillsborough River and the West Shore area. It’ll stay that way until early next year.
The sidewalk beneath the interstate is closed. The two-lane road is the only way to get through for the near future.
Run that obstacle course, and a strip of grass is all that lies between you and the southern corner of Water Works Park. A sign reminds passers-by that manatees frequent the river.
At the southern corner of the park, two stone signs lie on the ground waiting to be put into place: “Water Works Park,” they say. “Established 2014, Mayor Bob Buckhorn.”
The Riverwalk was added several years ago through Water Works Park while the park was still ringed by chain-link fence and mothballed. Now, it runs past a concert shell, along the river and over the restored Ulele Spring to reach the edge of the park.
Shaun Drinkard, director of placemaking for the Tampa Downtown Partnership, sees the combination of Water Works Park and Tampa Riverwalk knitting Tampa Heights and Riverside Heights into downtown — bypassing the physical and psychological barrier of the interstate.
Drinkard sees a time when Water Works could become the second stage for events scheduled for Curtis Hixon. The two parks will be less than a mile apart along the Riverwalk.
There are already plans to hold a public yoga program at Water Works similar to the one that now runs in Curtis Hixon on Sundays, he said.