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New life could spring from waterworks site

Old Tampa Water Works Pumping Station No. 3 was built in 1905 on a bend of the Hillsborough River to provide drinking water to a growing city.

More than a century later, few people know the structure is even there. Surrounded by a chain-link fence and barbed wire, it was decommissioned in 1930 and now serves as storage space for government equipment and home for the Tampa Police Department bomb squad.

But with A Better Place Group launching a $500-million redevelopment project called the Heights of Tampa, the waterworks building may get a second life.

The developer seeks to turn the building into an activity center for a new public park with a canoe and kayak launch and eight to 20 public boat slips.

The company wants to trade the city 127,000 square feet of land along the Hillsborough River for 112,000 square feet of land in the Heights project, including the waterworks building and property.

The only thing stopping the city from completing the swap and leasing the building to A Better Place is a stopgap measure designed to protect the structure from demolition. In 1993, the city dedicated the building site as a park.

Nine years later, in 2002, the city designated the building a local landmark, making its park status unnecessary to ensure the building's protection. But the building remained rundown.

"It's really a shame," said Michael Hatchett, the city's manager for the Tampa Heights redevelopment project.

"There are very few architecturally significant buildings in Tampa, and this is one of them," said Darren Booth, the developer's manager of the $3-million park project. "They don't build buildings like this any more.''

In order for the developer to continue plans for the park, the city must remove the site's park status. Despite some initial skepticism, community members appear to be warming up to the idea of a privately built green space.

The Heights Community Advisory Committee and the executive board of the Tampa Heights Civic Association voted Sept. 13 to support stripping the park status.

"Initially, if I hear about the undedicating of a park, it sounds like a terrible thing, like lost public space," Booth said, "but once people realized the project will turn a locked, unused site into a public park, they gave their support.

In addition to the boat slips and canoe launch, plans for the site include an outdoor cafe, inline skate rentals, an expansion and landscaping of the site's natural spring and a sprinkler fountain.

"I like to think that people will be showing up by the boatload," Booth said.

As part of the agreement with the city, the developer would add a mile to the Riverwalk, connecting it to the park and the Tampa Heights project.

Booth said he expects the City Council to vote on removing the site's park status in 30 to 45 days. Construction on the park could begin early next year.

Michael A. Mohammed can be reached at mmohammed@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3404.

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