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

Developers for Water Street Tampa are renaming Channelside Bay Plaza as Sparkman Wharf and plan to open a 1-acre recreational lawn with outdoor dining and a beer garden in October. The new amenities will be in the place of a wing of the old Channelside building that was demolished to open the project up to the waterfront. [Rendering via Strategic Property Partners.]
Published Jul. 26, 2018

TAMPA — Goodbye, Channelside Bay Plaza.

Hello, Sparkman Wharf.

The developers of the $3 billion Water Street Tampa project on Thursday dropped the veil on their plans for their makeover of the under-performing Channelside Bay Plaza mixed-use shopping center.

Gone will be the movie theaters and one whole wing of the building, which was focused inward on a circular courtyard as opposed to outward toward the best feature of the location, Tampa's waterfront.

In their place will be a new space for outdoor dining and events, new uses for the rest of the project and a new name that harkens back to how Tampa became a working port in the first place.

When complete in early 2020, Sparkman Wharf will include about 180,000 square feet of office lofts, 65,000 square feet of ground-floor retail, plus a 1-acre outdoor space with a lawn, outdoor dining and beer garden.

Let's break down the outdoor features, which are expected to open in October:

First, the name: The place is named for former U.S. Rep. Stephen M. Sparkman, who in 1905 engineered a congressional appropriation of $448,350 (more than $12 million in current dollars) to dredge a channel for Tampa's port — a political victory that would shape Tampa for a century.

The lawn: It will be open to the waterfront and include a stage to be programmed with local performers by the organizers of the Gasparilla Music Festival, plus an LED screen that's about 10-by-17 feet to show Tampa Bay Lightning games, other games, movies at dusk, even TED talks.

The dining garden: This sounds something like the Heights Public Market at the Armature Works, but moved outside.

Developers promise large shade trees and 10 well-known local chefs and restaurateurs who will experiment with menus and street-food concepts not found anywhere else in the area.

Each will be housed in a re-purposed shipping container, with murals paying tribute to natural Florida and painted by Pep Rally studios of Tampa. Two of the 10 concepts will be Foundation Coffee and Whatever Pops (popsicles and other cold treats).

"Happy-dancing in our kitchen," Whatever Pops owner Steve McGlocklin said in a statement released through the developers. Foundation Coffee owner Jason Smith said the idea behind Sparkman Wharf — a unique place for one-on-one connections — is "why we are committed to this project."

The beer garden: Run by Joel Bigham and Daniel K. Charley, the Fermented Reality Biergarten will be an open-air space with more than 30 taps with an emphasis on Florida craft beer alongside wine, iced tea and natural sodas. The 3,000-square-foot covered bar will offer shade, outdoor televisions and cooling misters.

"Honored," Bigham says. "Everyone desires to be part of something bigger than themselves." Combining the vision for Sparkman Wharf with top local culinary talent "made this project hard to resist being a part of."

Offices with water views: Construction on the office space is underway and is expected to continue through 2019.

This winter, Channelside's existing Mediterranean facade will be scraped off and replaced by something with a more industrial feel. The building will have a two-story office lobby at mid-block along Channelside Drive.

The space where the movie theaters were will become loft-like offices, some with 40-foot ceilings overlooking the water.

The office space will be targeted to creative and innovation-oriented tenants. Tampa Bay Lightning owner and Water Street developer Jeff Vinik has said he sees the innovation hub he's starting in Tampa being in this space, but nothing's final. (Vinik is creating the innovation hub himself, but has partnered with Cascade Investment, the capital fund created by Microsoft founder Bill Gates, on the larger Water Street Tampa project.)

"The theaters were a huge amount of space," with high ceilings and "all along the water, solid walls," said James Nozar, CEO of Strategic Property Partners, the Vinik-Cascade development company. "We're opening it all up. It's some pretty great space."

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