TAMPA — A divided Tampa City Council delayed action for two weeks on Mayor Bob Buckhorn's request for funding to remove graffiti from the seawall below two downtown landmarks to make way for an art installation associated with the Tampa Riverwalk.
Some council members objected to what they called the dismantling of a Tampa tradition, painted on the seawall by generations of collegiate rowers.
“It's like a welcoming mat,” Yvonne Yolie Capin said.
They visit Tampa from Virginia, New Jersey and points north for winter and spring practices on the Hillsborough River. While graffiti is, technically, illegal in the city, the river graffiti is tolerated as something unique to the city.
There are exceptions, however.
In 2012, Mayor Bob Buckhorn ordered graffiti painted over on downtown's bridges ahead of the Republican National Convention. The bridges became the canvas of “Agua Luces,” a light display mounted for the RNC that remains in place as part of Lights on Tampa — an ongoing art project that started in 2006.
Buckhorn asked the council to allocate $40,000 from the city budget to help Friends of the Riverwalk cover the entire $80,000 cost of removing the graffiti.
Buckhorn has a new Lights on Tampa display planned for the Riverwalk when the Kennedy Boulevard Plaza segment opens between MacDill Park and Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park early next year.
The proposed installation will light the river between the curving Riverwalk and the 650-foot segment of seawall below Rivergate Tower and Kiley Gardens. The mayor has proposed removing the graffiti on that segment alone to provide a suitable canvas for the light display.
Councilwoman Lisa Montelione, who supported removing the graffiti, said it's warranted because of profanity that will be visible to people walking along the Riverwalk.
Councilman Frank Reddick suggested the city should take the extra step of removing all the graffiti teams have painted up and down the seawall.
He noted that the graffiti hasn't drawn complaints, even when thousands of visitors descended on Tampa for the RNC.
Capin noted that Buckhorn has praised the graffiti painted on the wall. She said a rendering of the art work, which included the existing graffiti, showed the two forms of art can co-exist.
“Why should one work replace the other?” she said.
Here are highlights from other action by the city council Thursday.
♦ Approved more than $90,000 for a study of railroad crossings between Ybor City and Port Tampa. The study is the first step toward creating a quiet zone that would let trains travel through the city without blowing their horns at each ungated crossing. The study could help the city qualify for a state grant that would cover half the cost of upgrading crossings to federal quiet zone standards. Those changes could require buying land in some areas to erect gates and signals. City transportation director Jean Duncan said the changes could cost $50- to $250,000 for each of the 65 crossings being examined.
♦ Approved a no-wake zone for the Hillsborough River north and south of Water Works Park in Tampa Heights. The park, which opens Tuesday, will have a boat dock and canoe/kayak launch. To reduce hazards for boaters during the dock and launch, council members gave preliminary approval to extending the no-wake zone, which now runs from Interstate 275 to the end of Seddon Channel, another 1,000 feet north nearly to the North Boulevard bridge.
♦ Set Oct. 19 for a follow up discussion about a city plan to add a bike lane and on-street parking on Platt Street between Armenia Street and just west of the Selmon Expressway. The three-lane, one-way road would be reduced to two lanes of traffic west of the expressway. The one-street parking could provide about 54 paid spaces for visitors to the South Howard entertainment strip. East of the Selmon, the street would carry three lanes of traffic and the bike lane.