The Riverwalk and the Channel District could be a match made in heaven: Tourists and locals want more to do downtown, and Channelside businesses are hungry for new customers.
Since the 9/11 attacks, security issues have been preventing a happily ever after. U.S. Coast Guard officials said they can't allow pedestrians unfettered access to a working port.
On Monday, though, a ray of optimism broke through with the release of design options that would extend Riverwalk through a Port of Tampa cruise terminal. Proposals range from an elevated walkway above the Channelside berths to a corridor on the dock with pedestrian barriers.
"I think this is a sign of great progress today," said Troy Manthey, owner of the Yacht Starship Dining Cruises and head of the Downtown Tampa Attractions Association.
The Halcrow Group, an international maritime consultant with a Tampa office, submitted the feasibility study to fill a 1,000-foot missing link in the planned 2.5-mile pedestrian walkway from the downtown waterfront's Channel District to Tampa Heights.
Port authority officials promised to follow the two-hour workshop with discussion and perhaps some definitive steps at the Dec. 20 regularly scheduled board meeting.
However, there are still stiff financial and federal seaport security issues facing the Channelside portion of the Riverwalk plan.
The Coast Guard would ultimately determine whether security could be maintained if the Riverwalk is extended through the area where 129 Carnival cruise vessel calls are scheduled in 2012.
Nonetheless, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who serves on the port authority board and called for the feasibility study in September, and Channelside business interests agreed the cruise terminal segment of the Riverwalk plan has gained momentum.
"I think this is a good start," Buckhorn said. "And the potential for new (Channelside) ownership offers opportunities to do this."
Buckhorn said finding a new leaseholder for the once promising but financially troubled Channelside retail, entertainment and restaurant district on port-owned property could lead to a partnership to open more of the waterfront to the public.
Manthey and other Channelside business people said the first option the consultants presented them was not feasible.
It was a plan for a corridor with double, 8-foot tall security fences that would be put in place before cruise ships sailed into port and put back in place after they left.
The consultants said that plan would cost $749,000 to implement and $621,000 annually to operate, which includes reinstalling and removing the massive fences.
The business interests recommended an alternative with 42-inch high pedestrian barriers on the waterside and security fencing around other port infrastructure. Consultants estimated the cost at $967,000 to implement plus $558,000 to operate annually.
The business group said that cost projection was too high, while consultants said the option might not meet security standards.
The third option is for a $4.3 million elevated walkway that would allow pedestrians to overlook the cruise terminal waterfront even when ships are in port. The walkway still would require either a fence or some sort of transparent barrier.
"People want to be able to have a view that's not obstructed," said Manthey, who believes a solution for the longstanding Riverwalk issue is possible.