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Saturday, Jun 23, 2018
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Water Works Park on schedule to make a big splash Tuesday

— With a ribbon-cutting on the horizon, the crews building Tampa’s Water Works Park are working the weekend to be ready when Mayor Bob Buckhorn and his big scissors show up on Tuesday.

As recently as Thursday afternoon, workers were still pouring the concrete entry off Doyle Carlton Drive. Friday morning, a mountain of mulch — bagged and shrink-wrapped in lots as tall as a man — stood at the ready just beyond the park’s gates. The final metal cladding was going onto the peaked-roof concert shell.

“We are still on track to be ready for Tuesday,” said David Vaughn, the city’s contract administrator. It’s his job to oversee large projects like the $7.3 million park.

Buckhorn will be at the park, scissors in hand, at 10 a.m. Tuesday.

He’ll be joined by restaurateur Richard Gonzmart, who spent $5 million turning the century-old Water Works building into the Ulele restaurant. The restaurant opens at 5 p.m. Aug. 26.

Also on the invitation list are community leaders and representatives of the Southwest Florida Water Management District, which contributed $800,000 to the restoration of the Ulele spring. The spring, formerly knowns as the Magbee spring, was the original source of Tampa’s drinking water more than a century ago.

The city will hold a formal grand opening from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday, complete with food trucks and fireworks.

After Tuesday’s ribbon-cutting, the Rotary Club of Tampa will give the city a $40,000 check for the naming rights to the Downtown Rotary Pavilion in Water Works Park.

Since last fall’s groundbreaking, the city’s parks department has been transforming a longtime city maintenance yard into Tampa’s newest riverfront park.

The 5-acre park sits on land that once held a garage for Tampa Police Department and the city water department.

Where there used to be pavement and fuel tanks, the land now has a band shell, splash pad for children and the northern end of the Tampa Riverwalk. An oval lawn will provide seating for concerts. A garden of medicinal plants honors nurse Clara Frye, who came to Tampa from Alabama and founded the city’s first hospital for African Americans.

Two bridges cross the spring between the heart of the park and the Ulele restaurant. Beneath one bridge recently, blue dragonflies perched on pickerel weed newly planted on the banks of the restored spring.

Still on the to-do list: eight boat slips, a water taxi stop and a canoe/kayak launch. All still need to be cleared by regulators.

The Tampa City Council gave preliminary approval last week to extending the Hillsborough River’s no-wake zone 1,000 feet north of Interstate 275 to protect boaters coming and going from the park. The change now goes to the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for consideration.

One thing the park doesn’t have is on-site parking. City officials say they’ll rely on parking on nearby streets to handle visitors. There are also plans to add bike lanes to the neighboring streets to improve access from nearby neighborhoods.

Reinventing the old industrial site, which spent years unused behind a chain-link fence, required the city to remove tons of petroleum-contaminated soil with the help of a state grant.

Last week, a handful of current and former water department workers got a tour of their old job site, which had more grease than green.

Along with a tour of the park, they also got a chance to revisit the old water works building, which some hadn’t returned to since the department left 30 years ago. The building, like the spring next to it, has gotten a new lease on life.

David L. Tippin, the city’s water department director from 1974 to 2003, was one of those who got the behind-the-scenes tour.

“A few years ago, I was concerned that it would be demolished for some new site,” Tippin said as he toured the site. “It has completely transformed into a wonderful place.”

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