From the time the the former Channelside Bay Plaza met its first wrecking ball last autumn, anticipation has been running at a fever pitch for what was to rise in its place. Even after Strategic Property Partners — the developers behind the larger Water Street Tampa project — announced its plans for the new Sparkman Wharf this summer, the people weren’t placated.
“Is this EVER going to open????” asked one Facebook commenter, summing up the thoughts of many others.
The long-awaited Sparkman Wharf opened to the public for the first time November 30, kicking off a weekend of activities to showcase the space. With 10 food and drink vendors, lawn games, a full slate of musicians on the band stage, a wide array of free programming, and a newly open view of the adjacent Sparkman Channel, Strategic Property Partners CEO James Nozar says Sparkman Wharf is sidestepping some of the issues that may have led to Channelside’s lack of success.
“Channelside was 100 percent entertainment-driven, and it was also very insular,” he says. “It didn’t take advantage of the waterfront and the views that we have here.”
Nozar also noted that, unlike Channelside in the early 2000s, Sparkman Wharf is in the center of an existing, growing population of nearby residents in the Channel District and on Harbour Island. Once the property’s second-floor office space and the new USF Morsani College of Medicine across the street open (both expected later in 2019), the built-in audience of employees, students and faculty will likely help Sparkman Wharf become another feather in Tampa’s cap.
“You see the success of our waterfront over the years with the Riverwalk, Armature Works and everything that’s going up,” Nozar says. “We really just hope to add to that existing network and ultimately bring the Riverwalk over here to Sparkman Wharf.”
SPP development manager Sam Stein says his team is actively working with the city to extend the Tampa Riverwalk across one intersection and city block to Sparkman Wharf. That would allow vendors to dispense the specially marked alcoholic beverage cups that can be carried all along the path.
“We are going to work very hard with the city of Tampa to see if we can end-cap the Riverwalk, similar to what you see at the Straz Center, where you do actually cross a public street as part of the Riverwalk,” Stein says.
In the meantime, visitors can partake in a wide variety of cuisines within the park from some of Tampa’s top-tier chefs. Jeannie Pierola, chef-owner of South Tampa’s Edison Food + Drink Lab, says Sparkman Wharf’s singularity among food concepts in Tampa attracted her team.
“When they painted the picture for us, we were kind of over the moon,” says Pierola, who launched the new Swigamajig Divebar and Fishkitchen. “The idea of putting all those things together is a foodie chef’s dream come true.”
Though its key components are in place, Sparkman Wharf will continue to grow over the next year. Permanent retail and dining locations are expected to begin joining the newly renovated Splitsville Southern + Social in the plaza’s storefronts in the coming months. More furniture and seating options will also be added throughout the space, including down on the wharf itself; the area closest to the water will be open to the public all but the roughly 30 days a year when a cruise ship is using that port.
Whatever Pops & Bowls owner Steve McGlocklin, a Channel District resident himself, says Sparkman Wharf as it stands is already a boon to the area’s food-starved residents.
“We’re very honored to be part of this because we think it’s one of the best things Tampa has had going on in years, and this is now the tip of the iceberg,” he says. “It’s the start of a lot of great things coming.”
Sparkman Wharf is open Wednesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., as well as any day there is a concert, Tampa Bay Lightning game or other event at Amalie Arena. Valet parking is available Thursday through Sunday; visitors who spend $10 or more at the park’s vendors can receive 2 ½ hours of free parking in the Channelside garage at Sparkman Wharf’s concierge tent. Read on for a detailed rundown of Sparkman Wharf’s food and drink vendors.
Flock & Stock
Who’s behind it? Dave Burton, the Tampa-based restaurateur who is a partner in Tampa Pizza Co., Holy Hog BBQ, The Getaway and the upcoming Gen X Tavern
Cuisine: Southern-style all-American roadside favorites, like fried chicken sandwiches and burgers
Signature dishes: Cooter Brown’s Favorite burger with Flock & Stock’s burger sauce, American cheese and bread and butter pickles; The Dixie Chick chicken sandwich with maple bacon, pimento cheese and bread and butter pickles
Boat Run Oyster Company
Who’s behind it? Scott Roberts and Ryan Conigliaro, owners of local catering company Salt Block Hospitality, which also operates the Tampa Museum of Art’s Riverwalk Cafe
Cuisine: A rotating selection of oysters sourced directly from farmers and the restaurant’s own farm in Cedar Key in chef-inspired preparations
Signature dishes: Cedar Point oysters; fried oyster tacos; shrimp roll
Whatever Pops & Bowls
Who’s behind it? Steve McGlocklin, owner of Whatever Pops in Seminole Heights and its pop-up carts at Armature Works and around the city
Cuisine: Gourmet small-batch ice pops, acai bowls, gelato and grilled cheese
Signature dishes: Sparkman Wharf pop (strawberry, pineapple and pomegranate); Foundation Coffee cold brew chip gelato; Better with Bacon grilled cheese on Jamison B bread
The Corners Pizza
Who’s behind it? Chef Anthony Messina and Noel Cruz, owner of Ichicoro
Cuisine: Detroit-style pizza (thick crust with a crispy bottom)
Signature dishes: Pepperoni slice, with mozzarella, red sauce and Ezzo’s pepperoni; vegan slice with dairy-free mozzarella and red sauce
Who’s behind it: Ty Rodriguez and chef Ferrell Alvarez, the team behind Rooster & the Till and Nebraska Mini-Mart
Cuisine: Mexican street food
Signature dishes: Esquites (Mexican street corn) with chipotle crema, lime, cotija cheese; duck carnitas taco; pork belly pastor taco
BT in a Box
Who’s behind it: BT Nguyen, the chef and owner of Restaurant BT, Bistro BT and BT-To-Go
Cuisine: French-Vietnamese fusion in a portable form
Signature dishes: Smoked duck toasts, with Dijon mustard, roasted shallots, and pickled daikon radish on grilled French baguette slices; banh mi with 6-spice pork, organic chicken, lemongrass organic tofu or smoked duck; chili chicken cabbage salad
Edison’s Swigamajig Divebar and Fishkitchen
Who’s behind it: Jeannie Pierola, chef and owner of Edison Food + Drink Lab
Cuisine: Fresh Florida seafood and craft cocktails
Signature dishes and drinks: Piri piri-grilled jumbo Key West shrimp on avocado toast with yuzu marmalade and chile-toasted coconut; jerked black grouper sandwich topped with mango escabeche and curry tamarind tartar sauce; Pieces of Eight cocktail, made with Jamaican rum, Barbadian pineapple rum, coconut, basil gastrique, grapefruit, lime and cinnamon
Montados by Mise en Place
Who’s behind it: Maryann Ferenc and chef Marty Blitz from Tampa’s Mise en Place restaurant
Cuisine: Spanish tapas and wines
Signature dishes: Tortilla española with eggs, onions, potatoes, piquillo pepper aioli and frisée salad; charcuterie board with serrano ham, chorizo, manchego cheese, fig apple jam and accompaniments; chocolate bread, with chocolate, olive oil and sea salt on top of grilled Cuban bread
Who’s behind it: Jason and Emily Smith, owners of Foundation Coffee in Tampa Heights and Riverview
Cuisine: Coffee, lattes and cold brew
Signature drinks: Nitro cold brew; chai latte; latte
Fermented Reality Biergarten
Who’s behind it: Joel Bingham and Dan Charley. Bingham is the owner of the Craft Beer Cellar in Brandon and founder of an line of outdoor craft beer cups, while Charley is an experienced restaurateur.
Cuisine: 30 taps of craft beer, about half of which will be exclusively local beers, plus wine and cane sugar sodas
Signature brews: Hidden Springs Ale Works’ Double Secret Probation, a pale ale created exclusively for Fermented Reality; Cigar City Cider & Mead Homemade Apple Pie cider (check the current tap list at frbiergarten.com/on-tap).