Park gives Tampa
a civic center

Published Friday, January 22, 2010

Tampa's missing piece has long been a public square downtown. That is about to change. After a long, costly and contentious civic effort, the city on Sunday will reopen Curtis Hixon Park on the downtown riverfront. Tampa's newest landmark is a window on the past and a page in the history of the modern city.

In sheer physical terms, the six-acre park is a refreshing respite of green amid the urban center's concrete landscape. It took 10 years and two mayors, but the city finally has managed to give the park a welcome facelift while preserving its passive appeal. There are tree-shaded benches and fountains. Ten thousand people could enjoy a concert on a lawn that slopes toward the river.

The reopening is also a new chapter for a public place that has always straddled the old and the new. The park looks across the river to the old Tampa Bay Hotel, where Teddy Roosevelt organized his Rough Riders. Named in honor of the mayor who moved Tampa forward after World War II, Curtis Hixon also was once the site of a civic center where everyone from high school graduates to Elvis and Nixon had their moment in the sun. Come this weekend, a dog park there will give residents in the condos across Ashley Drive more sense that downtown is also a home.

Tampa never preserved much park land downtown, which makes Curtis Hixon the only real gathering spot in the city center. It will also double as the front lawn of the new fine arts and children's museums that open soon. Sunday marks a new start for a park that has brought Tampa together for generations. One kickoff event this month is a concert by the band Collective Soul. How appropriate.

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