The re-invention of Tampa's urban core is mere child's play at Water Works Park.
For many years the riverfront park land sat unused behind a chain link fence, but on Aug. 12 a ribbon-cutting ceremony will officially open the re-designed park. The following Saturday will continue the celebrations with a festival and fireworks show.
For Tampa Heights' residents, the $7.4 million investment in Water Works is especially significant. The park, at 1720 Highland Ave., and the adjacent soon-to-open Ulele Restaurant
are the most visible signs the neighborhood's master plan for redevelopment is taking root. More transformation is promised in future with redevelopment of the nearby historical Armature Works building and about 37 riverfront acres owned by SoHo Capital
which plans a mixed use project known as The Heights.
"It's a big deal," says Brian Seel, president of the Tampa Heights Civic Association
. "Everyone has been waiting for (the park) patiently."
The Aug. 16 festival will have food trucks, children’s activities and entertainment. Friends of Tampa Recreation Inc. will sell alcohol, with proceeds going towards programming in Tampa's parks. The fireworks display will begin at approximately 9 p.m.
Work crews with Biltmore Construction
are finishing up the park and laying in landscaping in time for the August opening. Dozens of volunteers spent a recent weekend cleaning algae from Ulele Spring, nestled between the park and the restaurant. Manatees, ducks and egrets are among the wildlife already spotted along the spring's banks.
The play area resembles a ship. There also is a splash pad, a performance pavilion and open lawns for special park events. A kayak launch, eight boat slips and a water taxi will be installed once permits are approved.
Water Works and Ulele will be the northern anchors of the city's 1.8 mile-long Riverwalk, which when completed later this year will link Tampa Heights with Channelside.
“This park is transformative for historic Tampa Heights and our urban core but also for our entire city. It’s another point of connection with the Hillsborough River, and will be a space for entertainment and activity,” said Mayor Bob Buckhorn.
The civic association is thinking ahead. "We'll probably host small events and get-togethers for the neighborhood," Seel says.
The civic association already is planning a music festival at the park for Nov. 22. Tampa Electric Company and Ulele's owner, Richard Gonzmart, will sponsor what could become an annual event. A portion of the festival's proceeds would aid the restoration of the former Faith Temple Baptist Church at Palm Avenue and Lamar Street.
Every weekend for nearly four years volunteers for the Tampa Heights Junior Civic Association
have pitched in to rehabilitate the historical church which will be re-opened as a youth and community center.
A walking trail that slips past the Tampa Heights Community Garden on Frances Avenue and the future community center stops now at Seventh Avenue. But eventually the trail is planned as a link to the Riverwalk with possible offshoots to Perry Harvey Sr. Park and the Encore project, a mixed use, mixed-income residential and commercial development north of downtown.
"We're connecting with everything," says Lena Young-Green, president of the junior civic association. "We see it all circulating then expanding all through the neighborhoods."
Writer: Kathy Steele
Source: Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn; Brian Seel, Tampa Heights Civic Association; Lena Young-Green, Tampa Heights Junior Civic Association