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River Tower Festival celebrates the iconic Sulphur Springs Water Tower

a alrge tower in the background of an outdoor music festival
Photo via The River Tower Festival

Anyone who has driven around Tampa has 100% caught a glimpse of the Sulphur Springs Water Tower. The structure looks like a castle built for Rapunzel and stands tall over a gorgeous park. It’s visible from the highway akin to a Disney attraction. A local group is looking to raise funds to preserve and restore parts of the tower. This is the main influence behind the always fun “River Tower Festival.” The event takes place November 11 beginning at 12pm at 401 E Bird St.

The festival will include live music, DJ performances, arts vendors and food vendors. Gates open at noon, music begins at 1pm, and the fun goes until 10pm. Tickets for the event are $20 for general admission and $75 for VIP.


VIP tickets include admission, parking, 3 drinks (beer or wine), a tower poster, access to VIP tent with light snacks and a special cocktail.

food trucks assembled in a park
Food trucks will gather for this annual festival

Celebrating the wild structure at River Tower Park

Live music includes Roxx Revolt and The Velvets, Synergy In A Cup, Tribal Style, Rebekah Pulley, Julie Black,  Lauris Vidal, Space Krate and DJs. 

Sulphur Springs Park was an amusement park established in the early 1920s about 7 miles north of the city on the Hillsborough River. It could be reached by trolley. The central features of the park, according to a 1924 Tampa Tribune article, were “the famous flowing spring and bathing pool; and the alligator farm with thousands of live alligators of all ages on display.” Canoes were available for journeys up the beautiful Hillsborough River.


a band performs under the stars at an outdoor music fest
The River Tower Festival goes into the evening

Tampa history stands tall

The Sulphur Springs Water Tower has been a Tampa landmark since 1927, soaring 214 feet above the city. Grover Poole designed this architectural marvel atop an artesian well, commissioned by Josiah Richardson, creator of the Sulphur Springs Arcade. Richardson envisioned an entertainment empire, boasting a Ferris wheel, dance floor, pool, and gazebo. The Springs Hotel and Arcade, hailed in Ripley’s “Believe it or Not,” stood as a pioneering indoor mall. However, Richardson’s dream hit a snag when he realized the area lacked sufficient drinking water. This marked a crucial turning point in the tower’s storied history.

Josiah Richardson took a bold step, mortgaging his property and securing a $180,000 loan for the tower’s construction. The project, announced in January 1927, worked round-the-clock and completed in a year. By January 1928, a potent revolving searchlight adorned the tower, its beam reaching an impressive 5-mile radius.

Yet, in 1933, disaster struck as heavy rains caused the TECO dam to rupture, devastating much of the resort. Financial strain led to Richardson losing substantial property due to foreclosure, and Sulphur Springs never fully rebounded. In 1976, the arcade met its end, replaced by a parking lot. Today, the Sulphur Springs Water Tower stands as a cherished relic, a testament to a pivotal era in Tampa’s growth.

a band performs on an outdoor stage
Local bands are set to take the River Tower Fest stage

Sulphur Springs Water Tower through the decades

The Tower was used as a water source until 1971 when the city became the main water supplier to the area. From 1952 until 1985, the 12-acre tower site became the home to the Tower Drive-In Theater. The theatre was demolished in 1985 after being condemned by the city. The Tower became forgotten and taken for granted. It became a sight of graffiti and deterioration for the next decade. 

In 1989 the tower was repainted in preparation to sell the property to developers. After interference by preservationists, the developer abandoned their goal of developing the property and in 2005 the City of Tampa purchased the property and installed lighting. This was the last time that the Tower received any sort of attention.

In 2019 the River Tower Festival was born in an effort to bring attention to the neglected tower and create a revenue stream for its preservation. It was the hope of the newly formed River Tower Foundation that the festival would grab the attention of the City of Tampa and bring the need to preserve this historic icon to the forefront. We were successful in 2019! Although the festival was held on a rainy and cold day, we managed to bring folks together and raise funds for the cause. The city is now working with the Foundation to make improvements with a vote going before City Council soon to budget funds for pressure washing and painting the tower.

You can learn more, and get tickets on the River Tower Festival’s website.


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