Sparkman Wharf Opens Friday with a new take and rave reviews

What do you do to reimagine a development that did not succeed and make it become a success? You find what was missing in the previous failure and make sure that it is included.

Sparkman Wharf opens this Friday and it includes some things that its developers think were critical missing elements in previous efforts. The first is better access to the waterfront and more exposure to the Tampa weather that we all enjoy. 

But second and more importantly, the developers of this much touted initial piece of the Water Street Tampa development, the developers wanted to make SURE to have some daytime traffic to feed the restaurants that populate the festival / entertainment venue. This change brings much needed revenue that was missing in Channelside, when it was opened 18 years ago. 

Adding office space expected to house 500 daytime workers, and additional people (estimated at about 5,000 residents) coming to the Channel District means that restaurants and other retail outlets will not have to rely on entertainment events as their sole source of traffic. this allows them to build their customer base more naturally and easily.

As Water Street grows, apartment buildings, hotels and condo developments will also be within 3 blocks of the property and add additional revenue for chefs and restauranteurs. 

This mix of more sources of revenue plus amazing views of the local watrerfont are making Sparkman Wharf a pretty tempting menu item. 

Sunshine. Views of the water. And a diversity of tenants that goes beyond a choice of restaurants.

Moreover, he said, the Channel District has grown to encompass about 5,000 residents, with thousands more on Harbour Island. And within three blocks of the wharf, Water Street itself will include: A new 13-story home for the University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine with 1,800 medical students, professors and researchers. A 26-story JW Marriott Hotel, expected to open in late 2020. A 20-story office building next to the USF med school. Two apartment towers, now under construction, of 21 and 26 stories. And a 26-story tower with a Marriott Edition boutique hotel at its base, topped by 46 high-end condominiums.

To open up the complex, Strategic, a partnership between Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Bill Gates' Cascade Investment, last year demolished the southwest wing of Channelside Bay Plaza, once the home of long-gone restaurants like Stump's Supper Club, Howl at the Moon and Margarita Mama's.

In its place, Sparkman Wharf will have:

• The Fermented Reality Biergarten, with more than 30 beers on tap, and 3,000 square feet of seating under a shady awning with cooling water misters. "At least half the taps are really going to be local almost all the time," co-owner Joel Bigham said.

• An artificial-turf lawn of not quite 1 acre with lawn games (cornhole, shuffleboard and an outdoor chess board with toddler-sized wooden pieces), a large high-definition television for movies and broadcasts of Tampa Bay Lightning hockey games and a stage to be programmed by the Gasparilla Music Foundation with local bands on weekend nights. 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 umbrelllas.

• A collection of 10 brightly painted shipping containers where a Who's Who of Tampa chefs will serve jerk-marinated grouper sandwiches, Detroit-style pizza, burgers, French-Vietnamese fusion, Mexican, gulf-raised oysters, tapas, açaí bowls, gelato and coffee. The only original Channelside tenant staying is Splitsville Southern + Social, which did a renovation of its own with new games and a new menu.

SNEAK PREVIEW: Chefs offer a taste of what's coming to Sparkman Wharf

"I've never seen anything like it in Tampa, and that was what was so thrilling," said chef Jeannie Pierola, a four-time James Beard Foundation semifinalist who is opening Edison’s swigamajig divebar and fishkitchen at Sparkman Wharf. ""When they painted a picture for us, we were over the moon, because the idea of putting all those things together is foodie chef's dream come true."

Many of the seats overlook the Ybor Turning Basin, and on the 330 days a year when a cruise ship is not docked about back, Sparkman Wharf will put tables, chairs, umbrellas and games on the wharf itself. In coming months, the port's security fence will be replaced with something that folds down to waist-height with a rail to hold drinks. In the long run, Strategic is talking with the city about extending the Riverwalk to Sparkman Wharf. And it plans to add more art, shade and retailers.

"This will be ever-evolving and ever-growing, but in the meantime, it looks pretty good to us," Nozar said. "We're pretty excited about the programming and all the things that you will see this week."

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