TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — One of the City of Tampa’s biggest and most expensive public fountains may soon become a giant planter, or maybe something else. City managers haven’t yet decided. It’s already fenced off from public entry, bone dry and a magnet for litter.
“We could do something better with that space, that’s for sure,” said Tampa Water Dept. Director Chuck Weber.
Weber said the city drained the football field-sized water attraction, located underneath I-4 in Ybor City, because it has become an expensive “safety hazard” since the Florida Department of Transportation first built it for $1.3 million back in 2007 as part of new I-4 construction in that area.
“Well, last year the maintenance costs were climbing to about $5,000 a month,” Weber said.
The city agreed to assume operation and maintenance of the fountain a decade ago, a responsibility that now costs about $1,000 a month to maintain it and keep it litter-free since there is no water in the fountain.
The trouble was that homeless people were drawn to it like children to a splash park and had been using it as a giant bathtub, despite the iron bar fence that surrounds the colossal football field-sized fountain.
That didn’t exactly make for the grandiose entrance to Ybor City that city fathers had imagined, so they put an end to those swimming shenanigans and cut taxpayer losses by draining the water.
The FDOT said it initially wanted to build a pond under I-4 during reconstruction of the interstate, but that former Mayor Dick Greco pushed hard for a fountain instead. FDOT paid for construction and the city assumed operation and maintenance costs, which started at about $2,000 a month and ended up more that twice as much before the city pulled the fountain’s plug six months ago.
Back when the fountain first opened in August 2007, a number of Tampa residents complained to 8 On Your Side that it was a waste of money.
Tampa resident Duane Gomez walked past the fountain while we were shooting video Tuesday. He thinks it’s still is a foolish use of tax dollars.
“Yes, obviously,” Gomez said. “It’s like a dead space right now. It’s like paying for a dead horse or something you can’t use.”
Weber said he hasn’t yet started discussions with FDOT on what to do next. Whatever happens will require state approval and more taxpayer dollars.
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