Since it last hosted the Super Bowl in 2009, the Tampa Bay area has added more than $2 billion worth of airport improvements, new hotels, waterfront parks and other visitor-friendly amenities. Some projects took decades to get off the ground. Others required throwing out old plans and starting over with a more ambitious vision. All have contributed to downtowns that have come alive in the past decade in both Tampa and St. Petersburg, as well as a Clearwater Beach boasting new luxury hotels. Here’s what’s new, with the year each project was completed.
Clearwater Beach Hyatt Regency and Spa (2009)
301 S Gulfview Blvd, Clearwater
The first of three large high-end hotels to transform Clearwater Beach since the last Super Bowl in Tampa, the Clearwater Beach Hyatt Regency includes 287 rooms, 256 of them suites, an American seafood restaurant, rooftop cantina, spa, eighth-floor pool deck with heated pool, fitness center and business center.
Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park (2010)
600 N Ashley Drive, Tampa
Since opening in early 2010 at a cost of $15.7 million, Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park has become Tampa’s town square as well as a concert and festival venue that draws spectators from all over the Tampa Bay area. In the summer, children play in the park’s fountains. In the winter, they skate on an ice rink under a tent. The park, a remake and expansion of an older and lesser-used park, hosts more than 50 events a year that attract more than 250,000 people, mainly in the winter and the spring.
Tampa Museum of Art (2010)
120 N Gasparilla Plaza, Tampa
The $32.5 million, 66,000-square-foot museum replaced an older building by the same name that had been on the other side of Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park. Designed by Stanley Saitowitz, it features 900,000 holes cut into its metal exterior and a shaded terrace overlooking the park. It was opened with an exhibition of rarely seen Matisse prints following a tortuous 10-year process in which visions for the project changed as mayors and museum administrators came and went and three different plans were made and scrapped.
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Glazer Children’s Museum (2010)
110 W Gasparilla Plaza, Tampa
The 53,000-square-foot, $21 million museum is at the northern edge of Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park next to the new Tampa Museum of Art. Interactive exhibits in more than a dozen themed areas let children try on new identities — veterinarian, artist, engineer, farmer, firefighter, chef — to explore the world around them. One highlight is a 35-foot structure called Water’s Journey, which lets kids follow water on a path from the aquifer to the clouds. The Glazer family, owner of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was the largest donor to the children’s museum. The family contributed $5 million. Hillsborough County directed $3 million in sales tax money to construction. The city of Tampa donated the land. “A lasting legacy for our community,” Bryan Glazer said when the museum opened.
New Salvador Dalí Museum (2011)
1 Dalí Blvd., on the downtown St. Petersburg waterfront at Bayshore Drive and Fifth Avenue SE
The Dalí Museum opened in 1982 in an old warehouse that had two main problems. One, it was too small to show the breadth of the collection, donated by A. Reynolds and Eleanor Morse, of oil paintings by the great Spanish artist Salvador Dalí. Two, it was vulnerable to hurricanes. So in 2011, the museum moved eight blocks north to a new $36 million home designed by Yann Weymouth. It takes advantage of its downtown waterfront site with glass panels providing an expansive view out to Tampa Bay, but it’s also built to withstand a Category 5 hurricane, with 18-inch-think concrete walls strengthened by 220 miles of reinforcing steel.
Water Works Park (2014)
1710 N Highland Ave., Tampa
This was a derelict property for years, fenced and padlocked to prevent vagrants from bathing in its freshwater spring. Under Mayor Bob Buckhorn, Tampa spent $7.4 million to transform the 5 acres into a breezy open space with a dog park, an event lawn, a playground with a splash pad and a huge yellow water bucket that tips over about every two minutes to soak everyone below. It was restored at the same time the Ulele restaurant was being created next door, and each space creates activity for the other. And as part of the project, Ulele Spring was restored to its natural flow of 2,000 gallons a minute. Now the spring attracts manatees.
1810 N Highland Ave., Tampa
Columbia Restaurant owner Richard Gonzmart paid the city $1 for its old red brick water department pump house overlooking the Hillsborough River. Then Gonzmart spent another $6 million restoring the building with a steampunk chic aesthetic and a Florida-centric menu that quickly made it the hottest restaurant in town. Ulele’s success foreshadowed what was possible along the Hillsborough River, which Tampa had virtually ignored for decades, and helped fuel Tampa’s appetite for places like the Armature Works and Sparkman Wharf, which offer a mix of local history, great views of the water and nonstop people-watching.
Downtown shore of the Hillsborough River, Tampa
Starting with the modest wooden planks sold by then-Mayor Bill Poe, six different mayors of Tampa spent nearly 40 years working to create the Riverwalk. The breakthrough came in 2012, when the Obama administration awarded Tampa an $11 million transportation grant to close a gap in the walkway that required some extra engineering. Now the 2.5-mile walkway curves from the Tampa Bay History Center on the east around the downtown peninsula to the Armature Works on the north. Along the way, it includes several large fabric awnings stretched over rows of whale-ribbed arches. Former mayor Pam Iorio once said she saw the need for a public space like the Riverwalk the night in 2004 when the Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup. Overjoyed, the crowd spilled out of the arena, only to be caught up short by the realization that “no one had anyplace to go,” she said. The morning that the Riverwalk opened, Iorio walked its whole length and said that had changed. “This is fundamentally a different way of looking at Tampa going forward,” she said. “Forever more, Tampa will be a city that people will view from the vantage point of the waterfront. And the Riverwalk has made that possible.”
Opal Sands Resort (2016)
430 S Gulfview Blvd., Clearwater
The $50 million Opal Sands Resort on Clearwater Beach gives all 230 rooms panoramic views of the Gulf of Mexico. The 15-story hotel boasts a full-service spa, 17,000 square feet of meeting space and a restaurant that serves seafood fresh from the gulf in a dining area facing the water.
Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach (2017)
100 Coronado Drive, Clearwater
Built by Tampa physician and philanthropist Kiran Patel, this $175 million resort on Clearwater Beach has 343 guest rooms and 750,000 total square feet. It features two 15-story towers, plus a fitness center, spa, pool, coffee bar, an Asian fusion restaurant and ballroom.
Sparkman Wharf (2018)
615 Channelside Drive, Tampa
Developed in the late 1990s, Channelside Bay Plaza was an odd riff on the idea of a festival marketplace. Built on a spot overlooking Tampa’s busy port, the development was instead focused inward on a courtyard that felt closed-in and separated from the Garrison Channel, which was just 60 feet away. After years of limping along, Port Tampa Bay sold the building to a joint venture headed by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Microsoft co-owner Bill Gates’ private wealth fund, Cascade Investment. The new owners tore down a wing of the building to create Sparkman Wharf, a mixed-use project with an artificial turf lawn with good views of the port, a concert stage, beer garden and a collection of 10 brightly painted shipping containers where a Who’s Who of Tampa chefs were brought together to serve up jerk-marinated grouper sandwiches, Detroit-style pizza, burgers, French-Vietnamese fusion, Mexican, gulf-raised oysters, tapas, açaí bowls, gelato and coffee. The lawn has seating for about 500, including Adironack loungers, upholstered love seats, bench swings and more than a dozen clusters of tables and chairs under umbrellas.
Armature Works (2018)
1910 N Ola Ave., Tampa
In 2012, the weathered red brick Armature Works building seemed to be a lost cause. A group wanted to use it for a party during the Republican National Convention, but City Hall said it was unfit for human habitation and could be used only if organizers had fire marshals on hand during the party and installed a full fire alarm system. Six years and $20 million later, developers Adam Harden and Chas Bruck opened the Heights Public Market, a something-for-everyone food hall, inside what used to be a maintenance bay for Tampa Electric Trolley cars. The project includes restaurants, a rooftop bar, a large riverfront activity lawn, co-working space and a large ballroom, but it’s hard to tell where the weathered red brick of the original 1910 warehouse ends and the virtually identical red brick of the new construction begins.
Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park (2018)
1001 N Boulevard, Tampa
When Bob Buckhorn became Tampa’s mayor in 2011, the city had a plan to add some softball diamonds to Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park, a 1970s project often known for its concrete amphitheater and a series of earthen humps and swales that Buckhorn called the “alien space mounds.” Buckhorn scrapped the plan and pushed forward a total makeover that ended up costing $35.5 million, with a good chunk of the money coming from Tampa’s settlement from the BP oil spill. The project flattened the mounds, opening views of the river from a large event lawn. The 23-acre park’s centerpiece is a rowing dock and boat house topped by a special events room with sweeping views of the downtown skyline.
Tampa International Airport expansion (2018)
4100 George J. Bean Parkway, Tampa
Many people who don’t know anything else about the Tampa Bay area know Tampa International Airport. Designed in the 1960s with an eye on minimizing the walk to your flight, the airport has won customer satisfaction awards for decades. Now it’s in the midst of a $2 billion expansion so that it can accommodate 34 million passengers a year — about 50 percent more than it does now. The first phase included a massive rental car center with more square footage than the neighboring International Plaza shopping mall, a new train to connect the rental center to the main terminal, new shops in the terminal and new restaurants at the airsides. A second phase, now underway, includes an office building and hotel as part of a 35-acre commercial development and adds more dropoff and pickup lanes at the terminal. “We’re seeing what’s coming at us,” airport CEO Joe Lopano says, "and we’re being proactive in preparing for the future.”
James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art (2018)
150 Central Ave., St. Petersburg
With hundreds of works of western and wildlife art, the James Museum was funded by Tom James, former chairman of Raymond James Financial, and his wife, Mary, who pledged $75 million to create the project. The collection seeks to portray the nuanced and evolving narrative of Western culture, including the Native American experience. The interior was designed by architect Yann Weymouth and uses earth tones and sandstone to evokes the cliff and dry creeks of the West.
Raymond James Stadium renovations (2018)
4201 N Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa
A multi-year renovation of Raymond James Stadium was one of two projects that helped cinch the bay area’s bid for Super Bowl 55, Tampa Bay Super Bowl LV Host Committee president and CEO Rob Higgins says. (The other was the construction of a new JW Marriott hotel in Water Street Tampa. It’s expected to serve as one of the NFL’s headquarters hotels.) The renovations included the East and West Stadium Clubs, a new 8,000-square-foot sports bar, new team store, larger locker room and new video boards and sound system. “A total stadium renovation of over $160 million was as big of a factor as any into us being awarded Super Bowl LV,” Higgins says. The team put in most of the money for the work, with $30 million coming from the Tampa Sports Authority, Hillsborough County and the city of Tampa.
Tampa Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino expansion (2019)
5223 Orient Road, north of Interstate 4, Tampa
The Seminole Tribe started in the 1980s with a metal-sided warehouse for bingo at its reservation near Interstate 4, and has since expanded into high-stakes bingo, video slots, poker and, today, a casino that generates $1 billion annually in revenue for Hard Rock International, which is owned by the tribe. In October, the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa celebrated its latest expansion, a $720 million project that grew the operation to nearly 5,000 slots and about 200 tables for poker, blackjack, baccarat and more. The expansion also included a new 14-story, 562-room hotel, a remade pool deck with three pools, a salon and spa, an 1,800 seat concert hall, new restaurants, more shopping and more glitzy memorabilia, including a gold-plated piano once owned by Elvis Presley. “We started off with a chickee and one alligator in a pen,” Seminole Tribe vice chairman Mitchell Cypress said at the opening, “and look where we’re at.”
This article was updated Tuesday, Feb. 4, with information about hotels built on Clearwater Beach.