Downtown Tampa is roughly defined by everything south of 275 and FL-618, to the bay and along the Tampa Riverwalk.
Its settled origins began with the construction of Fort Brooke in the 1820s, and being called the Village of Tampa in the late 1840s when the town squares still used today were being platted out.
After the abandonment of Fort Brooke, the land was granted to four homesteader families and the village was incorporated as the Town of Fort Brooke, later annexed by the City of Tampa.
My song for this entry is obviously going to be “Tampa” by Small Black:
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The upper half of downtown nearest to 275 is also known as the North Franklin Street Historic District. In the late 1800s, Franklin Street was a main thoroughfare, created with the city’s first electric system that also supplied electric power to the surrounding community.
By the 1920s it was the pedestrian-centered downtown hub of entertainment, shopping, dining, and social activity, enhanced by the introduction of the free TECO streetcar lines.
In the 1970s, Franklin Street’s popularity began to decline with a boom in suburban sprawl, the construction of the interstate, and the city’s development efforts being refocused to waterfront property further south. Read more about the history of the North Franklin Street Historic District here.
The lower half of downtown nearest the waterfront and along the Riverwalk is where most tourist attractions are, including the Florida Aquarium, the American Victory Museum, Tampa Bay History Center, Amalie Arena, Cigar City Brewing, and the Tampa Bay Water Taxi History Tour.
This area was once known as the Garrison, then synonymously called the Channel District, referring more to the residential area, and Channelside, short for what was the Channelside Bay Plaza with entertainment, dining, and retail options.
Many of those businesses are still booming but the entire area has been taking on the name Water Street Tampa.
WATER STREET TAMPA
Water Street and Channelside Drive both run parallel along the bay and connect to Port of Tampa, Florida’s largest port and major hub for cruise line departures/arrivals. There is a free TECO line that takes you straight to it, just look out for the giant Tampa installation.
Tampa’s waterfront property along Water Street and Channelside Drive has a long history of being purchased by developers but later falling short or fizzling out.
Developers behind the ongoing Water Street Tampa project recently purchased the 50+ acres of old seaports and unused spaces along the bay, with a mission is to convert these acres into a walkable, sustainable, dog-friendly, mixed-use community full of residential housing, cultural and educational buildings, communal entertainment, retail and dining spaces, office spaces, facilitate economic growth and tourism, and add unique architecture to the Tampa Bay skyline.
I found myself strangely intrigued by this collection of development and progress videos. Check out this short video for a visual demonstration of the master plan:
So far, the Water Street Tampa project has made great progress and has completed many new additions. The most impressive of these projects includes the wildly popular Sparkman Wharf.
Described as a “pedestrian-friendly microcosm of Tampa Bay,” Sparkman Wharf is an “effortless blend of loft-style office space and ground-floor retail, along with an intimate dining garden, biergarten, and recreational lawn.”
Similar to Armature Works up in Tampa Heights, Sparkman Wharf is located directly on the waterfront and has a variety of restaurants, retail spaces, and outdoor activities to keep you entertained.
The difference is that Sparkman Wharf is comprised of businesses set up in shipping containers in a courtyard between brick-and-mortar buildings, and Armature is one large building with the businesses contained within it.
We had a great time listening to live music, people watching, sipping local brews in the beer garden, and petting friendly dogs.
After a few treats, we browsed local boutiques and antique shops, and gazed out over the water.
I love all the murals and vibrant colours, mostly created by a local artist collective Pep Rally Inc. and a few individual artists in Tampa and beyond.
Foodie options currently include places like Dang Dude Asian-fusion, Murph’s “Hot Butts” BBQ, Gallito Taqueria, Jotoro, Wich Please!, Flock & Stock, FitBowl, The Battery Bourbon & Bites, Edison’s Swigamajig, and Whatever Pops.
Sparkman Wharf is typically open from 11 am – 9 pm each day, and until 11 pm on weekends. Check out their event calendar to see the lineup of concerts, movie screenings, trivia nights, sports tournaments, mixers, and more.
It took over 40 years to complete the construction of the Tampa Riverwalk, and it goes right past cultural institutions like the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, the Tampa Museum of Art, the Glazer Children’s Museum, the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts, and the Tampa Bay History Center.
Across the Hillsborough River near the Kennedy Boulevard Bridge, you can see the Henry B. Plant Museum and University of Tampa campus.
The museum was once the magnanimous Tampa Bay Hotel, and the main building is preserved as a museum though others are being used by the University of Tampa. You can read my blog about Hyde Park and Henry B. Plant’s legacy here.
We stayed at the Barrymore Hotel right on the Riverwalk, which offered great views of the city and was only a few steps from the water.
If you are a huge fan of The Beatles, we found a statue of John Lennon on the property near the street entrance.
You really can’t go wrong just hopping on and off the Tampa Riverwalk as you please. It is over 2.5 miles long and will take you right to, or within clear sight of some of, the best things Tampa has to offer.
Even at night, the Riverwalk is bustling with families, couples, street performers, buskers, and random events.
I particularly enjoyed watching the ships cruise through calm waters and admiring the sparkling lights.
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