TAMPA — The original developers of Channelside Bay Plaza at first wanted the name of the complex to include the word "Garrison." That would have fit, because the center turned out to be fort-like, inwardly focused and unwelcoming.
Now, 17 years after it opened, one wing of Channelside Bay Plaza is being demolished to re-open that space and, a new development team hopes, reshape visitors' perceptions of the place.
Once the southwest wing is gone, it will make way for part of Water Street Tampa, the massive $3 billion redevelopment project being launched by Strategic Property Partners.
"It opens up the waterfront," said Jim Shimberg, executive vice president and general counsel for SPP, the joint venture between Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates' private capital fund, Cascade Investment. "We create some activity down there. That's been the idea from the beginning."
The southwest wing being demolished over the next couple of weeks once was home to Stump's Supper Club, Howl at the Moon, Bennigan's, Margarita Mama's, and, more recently, Hablo Taco, Thai Thani and Oishi Sushi & Hibachi Grill — now all closed.
Still open, however, are Channelside businesses in the plaza's other wings, including Splitsville, Cold Stone Creamery, Hooters, Precinct Pizza and Wet Willie's frozen daquiri bar.
In the near term, the space created by the demolition could become a waterfront park of a little less than an acre. Overlooking the Ybor Turning Basin, it's expected to feature a small stage, an "outdoor lounge" seating area and spaces for pop-up bars and restaurants housed in re-purposed shipping containers.
"We'd like to get it open before the NHL All-Star Weekend" on Jan. 27 and 28, Shimberg said.
Looking a little further out, Strategic Property Partners is trying to recruit a broader mix of office and retail tenants for the rest of Channelside Bay Plaza. SPP has its own offices there, has leased space to Suffolk Construction and brought in the offices of Tampa Bay Wave, a nonprofit accelerator for new tech companies. SPP spokeswoman Ali Glisson said an announcement could come in a few weeks about a new, non-theater tenant for the space that Channelside Cinemas left five years ago.
In the long run, Strategic Property Partners has considered redeveloping the Channelside Bay Plaza site completely, though Shimberg said the plans continue to evolve. A video that the company released in August shows the Channelside space with some retail, but on a smaller scale and in a more park-like setting.
Strategic Property Partners CEO James Nozar has talked about creating a more open east-west connection between the Florida Aquarium and the area around the Tampa Bay History Center and Amalie Arena.
"The aquarium would like to be able to take advantage of the Riverwalk, as would we, which dead-ends down at the history center," Nozar said. "There's a natural pathway along the water, but you can't physically make that walk today. If you stand right here" — indicating a spot closer to the aquarium — "and look at the arena, there's 18 obstacles in the way."
Contact Richard Danielson at email@example.com or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times