CLEARWATER – Many residents think of the city’s East Gateway District as a rundown, crime-ridden neighborhood. But consultants Keith Greminger and Alyssa Lee see it as a diamond in the rough.
Greminger , of the M. Arthur Gensler, Jr. consulting firm, and Lee, of the Social Compact consulting firm, were hired by the city to create a plan for revitalizing the East Gateway over the next 20 years. On Jan. 9, they presented that plan to the Clearwater City Council, which was acting in the role of its alter ego, the Community Redevelopment Agency.
The East Gateway neighborhood is bordered by Drew Street on the north, by Court Street on the south, by Highland Avenue on the east and by Missouri Avenue on the west. It has 2,871 residents in 1,200 households.
But Greminger and Lee used a study area that includes the East Gateway but extends beyond its boundaries. It is bordered on the north by Palmetto Street, on the south by Druid Road, on the east by Keene Road and west by Myrtle Avenue. It has more than 11,000 residents in more than 6,000 households.
The average personal income in the study area is slightly lower than the citywide average. But because of the high population density in the study area, the average income per acre is slightly higher than the citywide average. Lee said that those statistics indicate that the East Gateway has a good potential for economic growth.
“The study area attracts dollars from the outside in,” she said. “This community has great building blocks.”
Greminger added that there are “unparalleled opportunities” for economic growth in the area.
“You have one of the best attractions in the state ten minutes west of this area,” he said, referring to Clearwater Beach. But he warned that the East Gateway must shed its seedy reputation before it can achieve the greatness that city officials envision for it.
City manager Bill Horne said that anyone considering a move to the East Gateway must be comfortable with its cultural diversity. Although whites are the largest ethnic group in the neighborhood, there are also significant numbers of Hispanics and blacks.
To achieve the turnaround, Greminger and Lee suggested turning the East Gateway into an eating and shopping destination, making it more “walkable” by upgrading its sidewalks and street lights, adding more retail space and affordable condominiums and focusing on business development, especially near the intersection of Missouri Avenue and Cleveland Street. They want to create a “complete street” district corridor along Cleveland Street and Gulf to Bay Boulevard and “explore the opportunity of renaming Gulf to Bay Boulevard.”
They further advocate developing “a north-south connectivity axis of open space and community amenities along the Stevenson Creek drainage basin” and creating a “central gathering place where the community can come together for regularly scheduled events and activities, offering a sense of place and a community destination core.” Lastly, they say that the city should “create a strategy to rebrand the East Gateway District as a cohesive, vibrant destination community to live, work, recreate and educate.’
To do that, they said, the city should streamline the redevelopment process and ease the restrictive regulations that impede growth. And it should “introduce (a) formed-base code as a regulatory tool to assist in the redevelopment process.”
City Manager Horne said that the city had previously put its emphasis on Clearwater Beach and downtown, and it’s now the East Gateway’s turn. But he warned against expecting too much too soon because in this tight economy, the wants of the East Gateway might “bump up against” the priorities of earlier projects.
After fine-tuning their plan, the consultants are expected to submit an implementation strategy for its first five years,
“I don’t want this to sit on the shelf,” said Mayor Frank Hibbard, who will be term-limited out of office before the plan can be implemented. “We either buy into these suggestions or we don’t. And the ones that we buy into, we put a price tag on.”