For weeks, there's been a flurry of activity around the city's new Waterworks Park and the new Ulele Native-Inspired Foods & Spirits waterfront restaurant.
"It's a dream fulfilled, because it's been, we estimate, almost a hundred years since it's been like this," says biologist Tom Ries, of Ecosphere Restoration, who designed the restoration of Ulele Spring, one of Tampa's first sources of fresh water. It’s the reason this area first became popular among Tampa residents in the early 1900's, and it's believed, to Native Americans generations earlier.
LEGEND AND ART
Old photos show people gathering around Ulele Spring in the early 20th Century. But legend tells of an Indian princess who lived here years before Pocahontas. As the story goes, she saved the life of an early Spanish explorer by intervening on his behalf with her father, the chief.
Keith Sedita, managing partner of the Ulele restaurant, says native influences will play an important role in the menu and decor of the 240-seat, two-story, waterfront restaurant.
When we visited pre-opening, the restaurant was already filled with pieces from the art collection of Richard Gonzmart, owner of Tampa's famous Columbia Restaurant, and founding partner in Ulele.
"Richard has been collecting the artwork for years just for this restaurant. We're excited to unveil it to Tampa," Sedita says.
WOOD, STEEL, AND BEER
Sedita says his partnership has spent more than $5 million turning the city's old waterworks building into Ulele. Some of the huge valves and other old hardware remain to remind visitors of the building's history.
Furniture is made from native wood. Some of the steel was fabricated in Tampa; other exposed steel beams have Carnegie stamped on them from the building’s original construction around the turn of the century.
They've set up a gleaming new brewery beside the restaurant where they plan to brew six different beers. The restaurant is scheduled to open for dinner on Tuesday August 26 (reservations are recommended). They plan to begin serving lunch this fall.
For more information visit Ulele.com. Waterworks Park is scheduled to open Tuesday August 12th. LOCATION: 1710 N. Highland Ave. Tampa, FL 33602.