TAMPA — The newly-refurbished Water Works Park is all about celebrating Tampa’s history.
Ulele Spring, the city’s first source of drinking water, has been restored completely and once again is bubbling fresh water into the Hillsborough River. The Columbia Restaurant’s Gonzmart family plans to open a restaurant named for the spring, Ulele, later this month in the old water works building at the north end of the park.
And now, thanks to a donation from the local chapter of the Sierra Club, officials hope native plants around the spring basin will help entice various creatures back to their natural habitat in the riverfront park.
About 50 volunteers from the Sierra Club and other civic groups were in the park Saturday morning, planting 840 plants including cordgrass, swamp fern and coontie.
“We’re trying to provide the native habitat that goes along with that,” said Karla Price, a city landscape architect who helped design the years-long project.
Since the spring was excavated and unfettered in May, manatees have been spotted near where the freshwater flows into the tidal river, Price said.
The Sierra Club Tampa Bay Group spent just under $10,000 to donate the plants, said Gail Parsons, vice chair of the group.
The club had received a bequest from a member that died, and Parsons came up with the idea of planting a garden of Florida plant species. The new Water Works Park seemed like the perfect spot for it, Parsons said.
“This is a cool park,” she said. “When you walk in the gate, the first thing you’re going to see is our native garden.”
Ground was broken on the park in October with the help of Tampa Heights residents and the Gonzmart family.
The park, at Doyle Carlton Drive and West Henderson Avenue, will have a central lawn, a playground, a dog park and a wooden deck overlooking the river.
For a long time, the site was used to store city vehicles, a legacy that left the ground there polluted with fuel and other contaminants that required a $500,000 cleanup.
By the time the $6.2 million renovation ends, Tampa will have its third riverfront park in the city’s urban heart and Water Works Park will begin a new life as a public venue.
The park was scheduled to be completed by July 1, but rain delayed its construction. Ulele now is scheduled to open Aug. 26.