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Designing students use talents on waterfront

Architecture students' ideas will help shape the city's plans for a string of small parks along the downtown waterfront.

By SUSAN THURSTON, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 27, 2002

As kids, they played with Legos, Lincoln Logs and Tinker Toys.

They built whatever their young imaginations dreamed up. Someday, they would become architects.

Today, those professionals-in-training are studying architecture at the University of South Florida.

Instead of pretend houses and buildings, they design the real thing.

"I've liked it since I was a kid," said Mike Pruitt, a 22-year-old graduate student. "It's in my blood."

The wannabe architects spent a weekend earlier this month designing a park along the Hillsborough River, next to the Tampa Convention Center in downtown Tampa.

Their ideas will help shape the city's plans for the Ribbon of Green, a string of small parks along Tampa's waterfront.

"There were some very innovative ideas," said Phil Graham, the St. Petersburg architect hired to design the parks. "We're going to use as many of the good ideas as possible."

Students broke into 14 teams of eight to create their own designs. A jury of professional architects and planners picked the top entries. Winners received bragging rights and cash prizes totaling $1,750.

The No. 1 design featured a walkway along the river, a fountain that extends into the water and an observation tower. An open-air pavilion would serve public gatherings and meetings.

"We wanted to make it realistic -- something that they could do," said student Chris Hester, who helped create the winning design.

Teams had 56 hours to come up with a plan. They visited the site, took photos and brainstormed until the wee hours of the morning. The only break: the Bucs game against the Saints.

The winner finished at midnight with only minutes to spare.

Coffee helped.

The idea was to mimic a real work experience, with deadlines and competing viewpoints, said India Waller Witte, who raises money for the School of Architecture and Community Design.

Most participants had never seen the spot before. Tucked between the Platt and Brorein streets bridges, the land has been neglected for years. Fallen branches and busted pieces of concrete litter the ground.

"I've gone by it 200 times and never even noticed it," said Steve Schreiber, the school's director.

Students said they looked forward to seeing the park come to fruition. Once finished, it will link the convention center and the Fort Brooke Park under construction next to the St. Pete Times Forum.

The downtown park was one of several USF community design projects. Others include a town square plan for Indian Shores in Pinellas County and the Main Street Zephyrhills project.

Graham, who served on the jury, said he plans to finish the park designs by January or February. No construction date is set.

-- Susan Thurston can be reached at 226-3394 or

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