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A park for the city

The site of Fort Brooke, which once raised soldiers' pride and the Seminole's ire, will now become a waterfront park.

By SUSAN THURSTON, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 19, 2002


DOWNTOWN TAMPA -- In its early days, Fort Brooke served as an outpost for waging war and attracting settlers.

U.S. soldiers who built it in 1824 saw a place of beauty and military might.

Seminole Indians shunned it as a reminder of the armies that captured their people and forced them into exile.

Today, the former fort site gives rise to a waterfront park rich in history and recreation. Construction started Tuesday.

Fort Brooke Park will have downtown proper's first playground and a memorial commemorating the site's military and Indian histories. Big lawns and space for a portable stage will beckon festivals and performances such as Shakespeare in the Park.

"I'm just delighted we're not losing it to a high-rise," said Todd Bray, co-founder of the Krewe of Fort Brooke, which donated money for the memorial's design. "It would be good for the economy, but not the people."

The 4-acre park flanks Garrison Channel, east of the Marriott Waterside Hotel and south of the Ice Palace. The city of Tampa paid a bundle for the land -- about $12-million -- and plans to spend another $3.5-million on construction.

Ice Palace officials say their new neighbor will sweeten downtown for tourists, workers and residents. Tampa's $53.8-million TECO Line Streetcar System will stop at the park.

"We don't have any green areas or places to relax outside," said Ice Palace spokesman Bill Wickett. "People will be able to jump off the streetcar, go spend a little time at the park and come back to go to an event."

The city watched the property for several years. Prime for development, it sat idle, distinguished only by a decrepit wharf and scrub grass.

The new park will link with Riverwalk, a waterfront sidewalk between the Convention Center and the Marriott. Eventually, the city hopes to connect it to the Shops at Channelside and the Florida Aquarium.

Fort Brooke is one of several projects aimed at adding greenery to the mostly concrete downtown.

Northeast of the park, construction crews broke ground last month on a transportation plaza for the streetcar system. North of the Convention Center, the city hired designers to plan the Ribbon of Green, a series of small parks along the Hillsborough River.

"We've turned our backs on the river for years. We're trying to open it up," said Karla Price, a landscape architect for the parks department.

Tampa bought the land for Fort Brooke Park using a $2-million grant from Florida Communities Trust. In return, the city must restore the shoreline and plant trees and bushes attractive to birds.

The landscaping will provide the backdrop for a floating dock and kayak launch. Restrooms were considered, but omitted because of concerns about vandalism and vagrants, Price said.

At the park's eastern edge, visitors will find a wall with bronze plaques describing the Seminole and settler perspectives of Fort Brooke. Water trickling down its face may symbolize tears and healing.

The Seminole Tribe and the Krewe of Fort Brooke Foundation split the cost of the memorial's design. A shaman, an American Indian holy man, dedicated the land.

Officials hope to open the park in February, before Mayor Dick Greco leaves office. Supporters laud it as the first in the area, if not the country, to show both sides of the Seminole Indian story.

Depending on available money, the city wants to buy about 2.5 acres to extend the park farther east to the Harbour Island bridge.

The city faces stiff competition. Developers consider the real estate prime for a high-rise condo or apartment complex.

Bill Eshenbaugh, a land broker representing the owner, said he has spoken with various potential buyers, the city included, but he hasn't reached a deal. The seller, Olympus Capital of Cincinnati, also owned the Marriott and Fort Brooke Park sites.

Ultimately, the city hopes to connect South Tampa and New Tampa along a network of bicycle trails and walking paths. Completion could take decades. Officials don't know how many millions of dollars it will cost or whether they can even obtain land to create the links. Some trails stand on their own.

The plan shows clusters of trails in South Tampa, West Tampa, New Tampa, along the Hillsborough River and around McKay Bay. The idea is that people could get to city attractions, such as Fort Brooke Park, without hopping in a car.

-- Susan Thurston can be reached at 226-3463 or thurston@sptimes.com.

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