When we first moved here a decade ago, we used to joke that you could film an apocalypse movie in downtown Tampa on the weekends. Save for a few half-empty restaurants and smoky bars, this part of town was dead after business hours.
But last Sunday, it took us 20 minutes to find a parking spot. As we drove in circles, passing recently-opened restaurants, apartment complexes, and even a new cigar bar, it was clear no one could get away with filming a zombie flick in downtown Tampa anymore.
What brought us here was the opening of the newest extension of the Tampa Riverwalk. The freshly paved 1,460-foot strip marks the completion of a 1.8 mile walkway that winds along the Hillsborough River from downtown’s northwest corner to its southern tip.
It took almost 40 years, the effort of a half dozen mayors, and more than $30 million to get this trail up and running, but it’s finally here.
And dude, it’s awesome.
The trail starts at the riverside Curtis Hixon Park. Ten years ago, this was a parking lot. When we visited Sunday, hundreds of yogis were practicing their downward dogs on the grassy steps in front of the new Museum of Art building. Frisbees, drones and kites floated over families scattered about in lawn chairs and on picnic blankets.
We were lucky to snag a seat at a popup bar called The Plank that had set up shop for the Riverwalk extension’s grand opening. Around us people with dogs, tattoos and leather pants drank beer and watched the sun set. It would be awesome if The Plank was open every weekend (hint hint, Tampa), but for now we’ll settle for the city’s recent ruling allowing visitors to drink booze bought from select vendors along the riverfront.
(No need to hide it in a red Solo cup. Not that anyone would ever do that.)
As we walked along the Riverwalk, beers in hand, there was a sense of not knowing where we were. We’ve lived in Tampa nearly 10 years and had never been to these parts of downtown. The path wove under four bridges we’d previously only seen from the car. Dog walkers passed. Bikers chimed their bells. Kids on skateboards clattered by.
Pretty soon (well, in a year or so), the Riverwalk will extend up to our neighborhood.
We can’t wait.