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'Tree massacre' alarms Kiley Gardens group

Published March 16, 2006

TAMPA - Last week, Anne Vela and others hoping to preserve a crumbling downtown park met with city officials to talk about how to go about restoring it.

Wednesday, Vela stood in Kiley Gardens as trees came crashing down.

"This was not part of the plan," she said, as city employees churned through tree trunks with chain saws.

Vela and other members of Friends of Kiley Gardens, which was built at the intersection of Kennedy Boulevard and Ashley Drive, had hoped the trees could be dug up and sold.

"They don't have to be destroyed," she said.

But Steve Daignault, the city's administrator of public works and utilities, said the machinery necessary to dig up the trees would be too heavy for the park, which sits atop a dilapidated parking garage.

The workers cut down more than 100 trees Wednesday, Vela said.

It was a "tree massacre," said City Council member Linda Saul-Sena, who also attended last week's meeting"

"When I left that meeting, I was very encouraged there would be cooperation between Friends of Kiley and the city to rehab the park," she said. "I thought we had agreed that there would be a process of doing historic drawings and hiring a firm that would be sensitive to historic landscape architecture."

In the 1980s, landscape architect Dan Kiley designed the public garden to complement the design of architect Harry Wolf's adjacent 33-story circular office tower and cubic pavilion - the future home of the art museum.

But the park has fallen into disrepair, and roots from crape myrtles have caused major damage to the parking garage below. Fixing the garage requires dismantling the park, Iorio has said.

Iorio's museum plans call for spending $6.4-million to repair the garage and $1.5-million to restore Kiley Gardens. But she has emphasized that the future Kiley Gardens won't look like the park of the past. Instead, she has said she would work with the Friends of Kiley Gardens to find a way to honor the intent of the architect.

Vela said she understood the trees ultimately had to go, but the sight of the downed trees on their way to becoming mulch made her shake with frustration.

"It's kind of a desecration of the space," she said.

Janet Zink can be reached at or 813 226-3401.

[Last modified March 16, 2006, 02:00:27]

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