On top of what used to be a parking lot between the Amalie Arena and the Florida Aquarium, now sits the new Sparkman Wharf.
The food and beer garden features shipping containers buildings housing 1o restaurants from local chefs, an outdoor bar and a turfed area open to the channel near Port Tampa Bay. A live music stage and a shuffleboard deck provide the entertainment. Sparkman Wharf is the first completed project in the $3 billion redevelopment of Tampa's Channelside District into Water Street Tampa.
Sam Stein is the development manager for Strategic Property Partners, the firm that created Sparkman Wharf and is leading the transformation of Channelside into a 50-acre residential and retail district.
Stein says the hope is that residents in South Tampa and the greater Tampa Bay region will be attracted back to the long-dormant area.
"There's a huge population here, and an even bigger one coming with the Water Street Tampa development," Stein said. "There's just not enough for them to do, eat or see."
The food offerings include Swigamajig, a fish kitchen from Edison's Food Lab chef Jeannie Pierola, and the Gallito Taqueria from chef Ferrell Alvarez of Rooster and the Till fame. The beer garden will feature 30 taps with a focus on Florida craft beer.
The local emphasis is meant to attract the crowd of young professionals who work and live in the downtown area. That population has expanded in recent years with investments in new apartment buildings, restaurants and public parks.
Ray Wong, who works at an architecture firm down the street, was one of the first people to see new space. He was most impressed by how much the development has been opened to the Port Tampa Bay channel.
"If you were here in downtown Tampa and Channelside 20 years ago, after 5:00 it was tumbleweeds," he said. "This used to be next to the water, but there was no connection to the water. Now they've opened it up. They have large, open spaces for people to gather outside and kids to play outside."
Sparkman Wharf is located across the street from the new University of South Florida medical school -opening in 2019 - and a residential high-rise that's part of Water Street Tampa. For most of the year, when their isn't a cruise ship docked nearby, boaters will be able to pull right up to a dock next to Sparkman Wharf.
In addition to being a destination for Downtown residents, Stein said the new development will also give cruise passengers coming into Port Tampa Bay a better feel of the city.
"Cruises come in, they dock for a few hours, and people are looking for a quick bite to eat," he said. "We really want to give them a taste of what is Tampa. Come here and try new things and have a reason to come back, as opposed to just seeing chains they can see anywhere else." Sparkman Wharf is now open daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.