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Sparkman Wharf renovations move from outside to inside

TAMPA — Four months after opening, Sparkman Wharf's collection of shipping-container restaurants is seeing about 10,000 customers a week, and now the scaffolding is up for the building's next big transformation.

When it re-opens next year, the wharf — previously the perpetually struggling Channelside Bay Plaza movie and entertainment center — is expected to include 150,000 square feet of new office space, 65,000 square feet of new retail (probably with about 10 merchants), 10,000 square feet of private terrace space for office tenants, private on-site bicycle storage and showers for Sparkman Wharf commuters who bike to work, ceiling heights ranging from 18 to 40 feet high, more windows, and exposed structural steel that befits the industrial past of the port-owned property.

"We'll be transforming the entire facade of the building," Sparkman Wharf development manager Sam Stein told the board of Port Tampa Bay, which still owns the land under Sparkman Wharf. The wharf is part of the $3 billion Water Street Tampa project, which is being developed by a partnership between Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and the Cascade Investment wealth fund of Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.

MASSIVE MAKEOVER: Channelside Bay Plaza to be remade as Sparkman Wharf, with waterfront lawn, beer garden, outdoor dining and loft-style offices

Meanwhile, Water Street developers said they've made a few other changes in the meantime, with more coming. Crosswalks over Channelside Drive have been made safer. The wharf is now open on Tuesdays. A parking lot next door has been dressed up to create a more inviting entrance (the lot itself is expected to be developed over the next couple of years). The security fence behind Sparkman Wharf will be replaced with something that can fold down to allow for better views of the water on days when there are no cruise ships docked nearby.

"It's great that we're using the wharf in different ways instead of sticking our head in the sand and saying, 'Oh, we have to keep it away from the people of the city of Tampa because of security reasons for the cruise ships,' " port commissioner Patrick Allman said. "That was ridiculous. We did that for years."

Two other port board members had a request: More shade.

"I'd like to see some improvements on that," port commissioner Hung Mai said. "I took my two grandsons there on a very, very hot day and they complained about it."

It's coming, Stein said. Watch for more umbrellas, cooling fans and misters, plus covered seating being added as part of the renovation and other forms of heat relief expected to be brought in during the summer.

"It's something we're actually working on," Stein said. "We understand the need."

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Contact Richard Danielson at or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times