Tampa's Forgotten Park: Kiley Gardens
You won't find Kiley Gardens on any list of Tampa's attractions. Despite its location in the middle of the city's busy downtown, most people don't even know it's there. And while a few people are now calling it 'Kiley Gardens' or 'Nations Bank Plaza Park', it doesn't even have an official name.
The park sits at the edge of the Hillsborough River, in the shadow of what's affectionately known as Tampa's "Beer Can" building--the 33 story cylindrical skyscraper formally known as the "River Gate Tower".
There's a great view of the old Tampa Bay Hotel, now part of the University of Tampa, which sits just across the river. But the park itself can't be seen from the nearest road: Ashley Street. The design which hides it from view is probably also to blame for keeping it unknown to most locals.
This tranquil but eerie oasis was designed along with the "beer can" and the "cubes"--two smaller buildings at the base of the cylinder--by architect Harry Wolf, and landscape architect Dan Kiley. They used mathematical principal known as the "Golden Proportion", which includes a logarithmic pattern known as the "Fibonacci" series, to decide everything about the layout. The tower's height and radius, the size of the cubes, and the width of the park's pathways all conform mathematically.
But Kiley's creation isn't looking very good these days. Since it hasn't been managed by the city parks department, it fell into disrepair. The carefully placed paving stones began to sink into the ground...
...making some areas look more like a graveyard than a park. The homeless moved in. Water began to leak into the underground parking garage below the park, which led the owners to drain fountains and plant grass in a large reflecting pool. And perhaps the final insult came, when the city of Tampa talked about removing the park altogether, in order to make room for--brace yourself for the irony--a new art museum.
Things are looking up, though. In 2006, the city of Tampa proposed a plan that will help preserve the park. It plans on buying the "cubes" and using them for its art museum. The deal will also include money to renovate the park. Rumors are, it could become a "sculpture garden", possibly providing a space for Tampa's infamous "exploding chicken".
Will the park be restored to reflect Kiley's original vision? Only time will tell. But even in its current state of untrimmed crape-myrtle trees, slumping grass, and dry fountains, it's worth a visit.
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