Sparkman Wharf opening night brings crowds back to Channelside

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Eat, drink, and play with a waterfront view. The revamped Channelside Bay Plaza officially opened Friday as Sparkman Wharf.

It didn't take long for the crowds to show up. Everyone excited to check out Tampa’s newest outdoor destination.

"We heard a lot about it, a lot of buzz going on," Alyx Richter said.

Friday kicked off a weekend-long grand opening celebration for Sparkman Wharf.

The much-anticipated venue has a food garden featuring nine eateries operating out of repurposed shipping containers, there's an emphasis on craft brews from the sunshine state at the Fermented Reality Biergarten, and there are plenty of places to sit and relax, play a game or enjoy a show on the AstroTurf recreation lawn. 

Plus, dogs are welcome.

"I love this place, it's awesome, it's a great place to hang out,” said Nicole Sotire. “I feel like we didn't have a place like this in Tampa and I think we really needed it."

"I think it's great, I think it's a really fun place, the food is delicious so far, I think the ambiance is fun," Amee Joshi said.

"It seems like a very family friendly kind of atmosphere and lots of kids here,” said Andrew Kelso. “It's just a cool venue overlooking the water and stuff."

Channelside Bay Plaza was built nearly two decades ago, but the development never attracted crowds to the Channel District, as people hoped.

Construction to revamp the area started over the summer. Sparkman Wharf is the anchor for what Jeff Vinik's Strategic Property Partners are planning for the Water Street District. Hooters and Splitsville are the only hold-overs from what used to be there.

"Walking in just blew me away,” Richter said. “We've been to Channelside before, and we didn't know what to expect.  All the open spaces and everything's brightly colored, and just it's a lot of fun."

“I mean, don't get me wrong, I had fun when it was Channelside, but it's so much better now, it's definitely updated and so much better,” said Joshi.

As the sun went down, the music started. There were long lines to get drinks and food, but also, lots of happy faces.

Sparkman Wharf is open from 11 a.m. until 11 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. The venue will also be open on Mondays and Tuesdays when Amelie Arena has a scheduled event.