Tampa City Council frustrated with Bob Buckhorn over waterfront tower project

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Some in the Tampa City Council are having a growing sense of frustration with Mayor Bob Buckhorn. The mayor’s dismissive attitude of City Council ideas is beginning to strain their relationship.

The latest conflict in Tampa’s leadership is the Residences at the Riverwalk, a 36-story residential tower along the downtown riverfront. Designed for 380 living units, the tower will be situated on a little more than one acre (44,180 square feet).

The main concern is the sheer size of the proposed project; if built as planned, the Residences will dominate Curtis Hixon Park and all surrounding buildings. It would also serve as a physical barrier, disconnecting the Straz Center for the Performing Arts from the Tampa Museum of Art and the Glazer Children’s Museum.

What makes this particular issue so controversial is the mayor’s attitude. According to Patrick Manteiga of La Gaceta, he is taking on the project as if it his baby.

Buckhorn has pushed the proposal as a key part of his plan to redevelop the Hillsborough River waterfront, but considerable opposition remains from both friends of the library and the nearby Straz Center.

In May, the Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library Board and a Straz representative raised fears about removing the existing overhead library skywalk to make way for the Residences.

Buckhorn then injected himself as an intermediary between developers Greg Minder, president and owner of Intown Group, Phillip A. Smith, the president of Framework Group and the City of Tampa, especially in trying to assuage concerns over the skywalk, as well as increased traffic concerns of the nearby Straz Center.

By June, Buckhorn seemed to have the situation under control.

“Basically everything that the Straz had wanted, the developers have agreed to,” Buckhorn told the Tampa Bay Times last month.

Monday, the revised project goes to the board of trustees of the Straz. The board has no power to veto the project, but a strong sense of resistance would send a strong message to City Hall.

Even the Tampa Bay Times has joined the chorus of voices against the project, urging the board to vote no.

“It would cut off the Straz Center for the Performing Arts from the rest of the cultural arts district,” the Times editorial said. “It would block the riverfront, crowd the main library into oblivion and give downtown a scattershot feel.”

In addition, the Straz vote would give the City Council a mandate to dial back the mayor, giving Buckhorn’s cherished project some difficulty in Old City Hall.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.