'Trees' in park to spark change

Published May 18, 2007

A year ago, city staffers armed with chain saws entered a park and hacked down more than 100 trees.

On Sunday, a group of artists plan to return some trees to once-celebrated Kiley Gardens. None of these, though, will spread roots.

The trees are creative works intended to spark awareness of good urban planning and the importance of green public spaces.

Dubbed the Conceptual Kiley Gardens Project, it's the first effort of the Urban Charrette, which formed about a month ago. Its mission: to explore ways to make Tampa a more livable, walkable city.

"Tampa has incredible potential for greatness, " said graduate architect Adam Fritz, one of the group's founders. "However, everyone needs to get on the same page and tap into a consistent vision so developers and decisionmakers can get going in the right direction."

Kiley Gardens' location is key: It neighbors Curtis Hixon Park, a focal point for the administration's redevelopment plans, including museum projects and Riverwalk.

The Urban Charrette's priorities include mass transit, bike paths, diverse housing stock, sustainable building and green spaces like Kiley Gardens.

"Kiley Gardens is a very celebrated park that's known internationally, and Tampa is lucky to have one of these gardens here, " Fritz said.

"We need to treasure that and use it as a model for future green spaces."

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 cube-shaped pavilion.

But the park fell into disrepair, and roots from crape myrtles caused major damage to the roof of a parking garage below.

Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio earmarked $1.5-million to fix the garage roof and restore Kiley Gardens, which will be dismantled to make the garage repairs.

Last year, the city removed the crape myrtles. Steve Daignault, director of the city's public works and utilities, said he doesn't know what kind of trees ultimately will be planted at Kiley Gardens.

The crape myrtles planted years ago were not the kind Kiley had specified, Fritz said. The trees Kiley preferred would not have damaged the garage.

"We want the park restored and have them put in the proper crape myrtles, " Fritz said. "There's a way it can be fixed."

Meanwhile, conceptual trees will have to do. The trees, created by about a dozen local artists, will be displayed during a special event from 10 a.m. to noon Sunday.

Among those contributing their artistic talents is Urban Charrette member Renae Tvedt. She's leading a team of grade-schoolers, including her daughter, in the construction of a papier-mache crape myrtle.

"They studied Earth Day over the last couple weeks, so they want to do all they can to protect the environment, " Tvedt said.

After Sunday's event, all of the trees will be moved to the courtyard in front of the Tampa Museum of Art and then sold at an auction at 5 p.m. Thursday.

Proceeds will go to the nonprofit Friends of Kiley Gardens.

For more information, contact the Urban Charrette at urbancharrette@gmail.com.

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.