TAMPA — Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn joined city council members and members of the Gonzmart family to break ground this morning on Water Works Park just north of downtown.
City council members last week approved the use of $6.5 million in Community Investment Tax funds — the bulk of the planned $7.8 million renovation. When it's finished next year, the park will have boat docks, a canoe launch, a playground and dog run.
It will be the northern end of the 2.4-mile Tampa Riverwalk.
It will also be home to Ulele, the Gonzmart family's newest Tampa restaurant, which is under construction in the 100-year-old water works building under a long-term lease with the city.
“It's the kind of public-private partnership that spurs the growth of cities,” Casey Gonzmart said during the groundbreaking ceremony.
City Councilman Mike Suarez said the redeveloped park will be crucial to bringing new growth to a neglected part of town.
“The revitalization of Water Works Park is really a linchpin to the rest of the Tampa Heights community,” he said.
Later this month, Tampa City Council will consider a rezoning of nearly 40 acres just north and west of Water Works Park that could become a mix of riverfront residential and commercial space. The original plans for The Heights went bust with the housing market collapse five years ago. Developers Chas Bruck and Adam Harden expect to begin work on the site in the coming months.
Progress on the east side of the Hillsborough River is mirrored on the west side, where the city and Tampa Housing Authority plan to redevelop 140 acres of mostly public land between Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park and Columbus Drive.
The plan includes demolishing the North Boulevard Homes housing project and replacing it with a mix of market-rate and affordable housing.
Buckhorn reminded the crowd Wednesday that the work along both sides of the river is designed to make the river the center of Tampa's downtown, not the western edge.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we are changing the face of this community,” Buckhorn said. “We are changing it in ways that none of us could have imagined 10 or 15 years ago.”