Miss the Tampa Riverwalk behind the convention center? It’ll be awhile longer

TAMPA — Officials are hoping for a little more patience from rerouted Riverwalk regulars.

For more than a year, fans of the winding 2.6-mile recreational path that runs along the downtown waterfront — one of the city’s most popular attractions — have endured disruption.

Construction on a $38 million project to improve the Tampa Convention Center temporarily shut down the stretch of Riverwalk that runs along the water behind it.

That’s meant detouring thousands of Riverwalk runners, cyclists and walkers — plus babies in strollers and dogs on leashes — away from the waterside path, around the north side of the convention center and onto the sidewalks along the Channelside Drive tunnel that’s often busy with car traffic.

“The sidewalk is very narrow there,” said Tampa resident John Fitzgibbons, a regular Riverwalk runner. “I have been bumped by bikes racing through. The scooters come racing through there, too.”

That closed stretch of Riverwalk was expected to reopen right about now, restoring the continuous ribbon of wide pathway that runs from the restaurants, bars and happenings of Armature Works south to fast-developing Water Street. But now, officials say it will be August before that happens.

Kirstin Albert, communications coordinator for the convention center, said a variety of factors contributed to the delay. “But the main ones were supply issues and labor issues,” she said. “Those led to some scheduling issues.”

“We believe the project is still within a reasonable time frame despite those things that have been out of our control,” Albert said.

The expansion, paid for with a combination of city and county money, includes 18 flexible, customizable convention center rooms that can be converted from traditional meeting space to areas big enough to host a gala. It will also include outdoor terraces and shade for the Riverwalk. It’s the convention center’s largest improvement since it opened in 1990.

The current detour reroutes Riverwalkers to travel alongside an eastbound thoroughfare that’s fed by the Platt Street Bridge into downtown — a tunnel road that gets busy with car traffic. Concrete borders are between pedestrians on the sidewalks and and cars in the roadway. That stretch of street also features public art in the form of large circles of light that change color along the tunnel walls.

“People have been very understanding about the Riverwalk detour,” city spokesperson Adam Smith told the Tampa Bay Times via text message. “Maybe the cool Lights on Tampa art in the tunnel make the detour more palatable. We appreciate everyone’s patience as we upgrade the convention center.”

Foot traffic along the Riverwalk exceeds 100,000 visitors each month, according to thetampariverwalk.com.