Price tag on Tampa Riverwalk expansion rises as city council mulls decision

The Tampa Riverwalk attracts tourists, runners, and walkers alike to the downtown area to take in the 2.6-mile-long stretch of sidewalk.

Now, council members appear to be one resolution away from getting the ball rolling on a new pedestrian path extension. Tampa officials have pushed for a Riverwalk expansion for years, but the six-mile stretch of new construction comes with a much higher price tag than originally planned.

What started as a $30 million project will now cost around $56.8 million. Council members voted last week 5-2 to widen the budget. 

READ: Tampa City Council accepts $25 million grant for Riverwalk expansion

"It's like a bridge just half built," Tampa City Council Member Charlie Miranda said. "You can only go so far."

"The cost is high," Miranda continued. "There's no doubt about it."

The plan would add about 10 miles to the existing Riverwalk connecting Armature Works to Sparkman Wharf and Water Street. 

While most council members love the plan, the ballooned price tag was a hard sell for the two dissenting members in last week's vote to up the budget. They cited other issues the council could be focusing on, saying this is just too much money to spend on this type of project.

READ: Tampa getting another Riverwalk in 2024, plans for new neighborhoods and less traffic

Council members in support of the larger budget for the expansion said the Riverwalk will connect so many more people to downtown Tampa.

"It hits four or five good neighborhoods, from West Tampa, through Ybor City, through the northern part of the area," Miranda said.

Miranda pointed to inflation and the higher costs of labor, construction and materials as the drivers of this increased price tag.

"Anything you do costs much more today than it did five or six years ago," Miranda said.

Leaders with Visit Tampa Bay said the rising costs are even more of a reason to get the ball rolling with the Riverwalk expansion project.

"You have to invest, because the return in the future is ten-fold," Visit Tampa Bay President and CEO Santiago Corrada said. "And I always like to say, these great assets are not just for visitors. They don’t just say visitors only, or locals only. They’re for all of us."

Corrada said the extra cost is well worth it, calling the Riverwalk a game changer.

"When I’d have visitors or people we were bringing to the city, I would never think of bringing them to downtown as an attraction, and now, anyone who comes to Tampa has to come downtown, and it’s because of what the Riverwalk has done," he said.

City officials secured $24 million in federal funding through the ‘Build’ grant program back in 2020, and if the council hadn't gone through with the expansion plans, that money would be left on the table.

Back then, the city was on the hook for a lot less - about $6 million to pay for the rest. 

Now, the gap is a lot wider, with plans to likely use municipal bonds to pay the rest of the tab. Those in favor of the plan acknowledge the needs of this rapidly growing city, but they're selling this as an investment into Tampa's future.

Proposed Tampa Riverwalk expansion

"We have a lot of needs. We have paving needs. We have sidewalk needs," said Vik Bhide, mobility director with the City of Tampa. "Those needs are critical and must be addressed. Those needs are also costs, meaning those are maintenance needs for existing infrastructure. 

The final meeting to vote on the resolution is scheduled for July 18; that's when they're expected to pass the resolution on this.

Once it passes, work should start sometime this year with a projected end date sometime in 2027.