Open and still in progress

With ?For Rent? signs hanging from several vacant windows, there?s still plenty of room for new stores and restaurants at the shops of Channelside. But after its March 2001 grand opening, the shopping complex is showing promising signs of triumph.

Channelside?s entertainment complex was essentially created to mimic the ever-popular style of New Orleans? Riverwalk, home to more than 100 stores and restaurants along the Mississippi River.

Tampa?s version is a $40 million project that consists of a 10-screen movie theater, an assortment of shops and boutiques, a colossal arcade palace and an array of restaurants.

Not surprisingly, their main source of competition is the Centro Ybor complex, a few miles away in Ybor City.

So what?s the big fuss?

Regal Cinemas Channelside theaters, with stadium seating and state-of-the-art digital sound systems, is mainly devoted to playing what they term ?art films.?

?Tampa already has a wide variety of new theaters,? said Robbie Arrington, alternate marketing coordinator for Regal Cinemas. ?We?re bringing in titles that wouldn?t otherwise play there at all.?

The theater, upon opening, had plans to collaborate with Tampa Theatre, a downtown venue also devoted to playing the same artsy genre. Whereas Tampa Theatre has planned commitments for certain films, Channelside?s theater complex can premiere films that seem to be in high demand for audiences.

Arrington added that in addition to the regularly played art films, ?every now and then we?ll play a mainstream movie.?

The theater is also home to an IMAX 3-D theater. Movies such as The Matrix and Braveheart have been screened there, along with conventional IMAX movies.

Pop City, a 6,000-square foot entertainment center, houses a restaurant, G. Elliott?s, a dance club, Elements and a game room, High Jinx.

G. Elliott?s, which boasts upscale dining and a raw bar with fresh shellfish, serves meals with a Caribbean flair.

Elements flaunts a 1,200-square foot dance floor and private party rooms.

The arcade harbors a 16-foot rock-climbing wall, a two-on-two basketball court and classic favorites such as Galaga, Ms. Pac-Man and air hockey. Ticket prices, nightly specials and game features mirror Centro Ybor?s Gameworks.

Stump?s Supper Club recently opened in conjunction with Howl at the Moon piano bar. The Southern-style lunch counter displays framed needlepoint, velvet-painted Elvises and herds of mounted animal heads adorning the walls.

For the money-savvy visitor, complimentary Seaport Adventure Tours offer a way to tour the channel and Port Tampa, the largest port in Florida. The tours, which last approximately one hour, run periodically throughout every weekday.

There?s a list of shops as well. Cigars by Antonio offers the popular commodity of Ybor in a classy and sophisticated atmosphere.

Hegamin?s is a gentleman?s clothing company that hopes to attract business from downtown professionals.

Joffrey?s Coffee Company is also there, replacing the location that recently closed in Old Hyde Park Village.

And naturally, there are new plans in the works.

The city is finishing construction on an old-fashioned streetcar system that is set to run from Ybor City to the Marriot Waterside, running alongside Channelside, by the Convention Center downtown. The original system, which was installed by Tampa Electric Company in the 19th century, was taken out of commission in the mid-1940s.

The streetcar system will rely on the use of the world?s first air-conditioned trolleycars powered by overhead electrical wires. One-way trips, expected to start in early 2002, will take 22 minutes, making 12 stops.

Restoration is also being completed on the S.S. American Victory, a retired Merchant Marine vessel. The ship will be converted into a mariner?s museum and will also have cruises along Tampa Bay. Located directly beside the Florida Aquarium, the Victory is currently offering self-guided ?restoration tours? and will officially open as a museum and cruise attraction by the end of this year or early 2002.

Additionally, StarShip Dining Yacht will soon begin calling Channelside its home, offering lunch and dinner cruises for as many as 600 people at a time. More dining can be found at two new restaurants, one Italian and one Asian, that have signed leases and will soon begin construction.

Junior Cory Fernandez said Channelside seems to be a little pricey, but he?s willing to give it a try.

?Kinda expensive,? said Fernandez. ?I can see my girlfriend dragging me here. Good thing they?ve got an arcade.?

Contact Danielle Ritchie at