TAMPA — In about a month, crews will finish the restoration of Ulele Spring — part of the broader renovation of Water Works Park just north of downtown.
Some time around May 1, workers will remove the metal sheet holding back the Hillsborough River and the spring, once the source of Tampa’s drinking water, will again flow unfettered all the way to Tampa Bay.
This week, crews expect to finish grading the spring’s lower basin where freshwater will mix with the tidal river. Toward the end of the month, the city will recruit volunteers to help plant thousands of native-plant seedlings along the banks of the basin.
The city has scheduled the spring restoration to end around the same time restaurant-owner Richard Gonzmart expects to get the certificate of occupancy for his Ulele restaurant in the century-old water works building overlooking the spring.
“We have a lot that we need to do in that area,” said Keith Sedita, managing partner of Ulele.
Plans call for a patio along the north side of the spring. The patio should go in soon, Sedita said.
Anyone dining on the patio after the restaurant opens will have a front-row seat to the rest of the Water Works Park renovations. That work won’t finish until around July 1, said Brad Suder, superintendent of planning for the city Parks and Recreation Department.
A glance around the park on April 1 gives a visitor pause: Dump trucks rumble in and out, the future great lawn is little more than dirt, scattered around 5-acre site are the concrete floors of future picnic shelters.
“It looks like a long time to go,” Suder said. “But once it starts going vertical, things go fast.”
A few yards away, workers are adding layer upon layer of concrete block to the walls of eventual bathroom facility. Steel reinforcing bars jut from the concrete foundation of a future event pavilion.
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 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.
Before that, the park was a parking space and fueling depot for public works vehicles.
That left behind contaminated soil that the city spent $500,000 to clean up. City officials declared the property a polluted site, known as a brownfield, and are waiting for the state Department of Environmental Protection to reimburse some or all of the clean up costs, said Dan Fahey, the city’s brownfields coordinator.
When it opens this summer, the reinvented park will have: a central lawn, a playground, a dog park and a wooden deck overlooking the river.
It will also have a garden memorializing 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.
“We’ve got a lot packed in here,” Suder said.
One thing not packed into Water Works Park is parking.
The city plans to add parallel-parking spaces along Doyle Carlton and Seventh Avenue, Suder said. It may also try to strike a deal to use the nearby parking lot of Stetson University College of Law’s Tampa center when classes allow.