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Sunday, May 27, 2018
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Rain delays opening of Water Works Park in Tampa

— It’s a rain delay for Tampa’s Water Works Park.

The downpours that flooded parts of Tampa earlier this month poured mud and silt into the lower basin of Ulele Spring, the centerpiece of the park at Doyle Carlton Drive and West Henderson Avenue.

“It was the exact worst moment to have rainfall like that,” said Ali Glisson, spokeswoman for Mayor Bob Buckhorn. “The storm resulted in everything we had just excavated washing back into the lower spring area and plugging it up.”

The lower basin, which will provide a mixing point for the freshwater spring and the tidal river, will have to be re-excavated, Glisson said.

Crews also turned up additional contaminated soil on the site, a relic from the park’s years as a parking lot and fueling depot for city vehicles.

The planned July 1 opening will have to be pushed back, Buckhorn said Monday.

“We were optimistic,” Buckhorn said. “Clearly, the rains have delayed us.”

Glisson said the delay could be about two weeks.

“We’re working with our contractors to see if we can get creative and speed things up,” she said.

Buckhorn broke ground on the new park in October with the help of Tampa Heights residents and the Gonzmart family, which plans to open its newest restaurant, Ulele, at the north end of the park soon.

The restaurant will be housed in the city-owned Water Works building, a century-old structure that once held the pump house used to tap the nearby spring for Tampa’s drinking water. Today that water comes from the Hillsborough River.

For a long time, the riverside park was used to store city vehicles, a legacy that left the ground there mildly polluted with fuel and other contaminants that required a $500,000 cleanup.

The park’s future includes a central lawn, a playground, a dog park and a wooden deck overlooking the river.

A garden of medicinal plants will memorialize Clara Frye, the Alabama nurse who moved to Tampa in 1901 and cared for patients in her Tampa Heights home before opening her own hospital in the former Roberts City neighborhood. The garden looks across the river at the site of Frye’s hospital. Blake High School stands there now.

Water Works Park sat behind a chain-link fence for nearly a decade after the previous developers of The Heights failed to carry through on their plans to redevelop it. When the $6.2 million renovation ends, Tampa will have its third riverfront park in the city’s heart.

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