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Clearwater sets sights on downtown waterfront
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CLEARWATER – Bolstered by considerable community support, Clearwater City Council members focused their sights on the future of the downtown waterfront as they approved a master plan that calls for a dramatic redevelopment of an area often identified as one of the city’s least utilized assets.

The approval came during a special council meeting Feb. 21 at city hall and now sets the stage for the 10-year, two-phase, $55 million revitalization plan that will greatly re-envision downtown Clearwater.

With the guidance of urban development consultants over a more than six-month process that included workshops focused on community feedback, the plan represents the city’s determination to spur economic development while strengthening the connection between downtown and Clearwater Beach.

“I really think we have an opportunity here to inspire our community,” said Planning and Development Director Michael Delk. “I’ve seen that in the constituencies and the folks that I’ve met with over the past couple of weeks. I think it’s important that we be willing and able to move forward.”

Delk said that there were a hundred different ways to fashion a plan, with a hundred different opinions on what should happen, but that there was only one way to build a partnership with the community to create a shared vision for the city.

“And that is Imagine Clearwater,” Delk said. “It’s not about individual things … it’s about the dignity of the space. This is about the entire community of Clearwater and the community investing in the waterfront and bluff.”

And the majority of residents who attended Tuesday’s meetings agreed with that assessment.

“This is a historic moment for Clearwater,” said Grant Wood, representing the Clearwater Downtown Partnership. “Your commitment to downtown will be a lasting legacy for generations to come.”

Zach Thorn with the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce, said now was the time for action.

“We at the chamber are willing and able to be partners throughout this process,” Thorn said. “This is a moment in the city’s history where we do not want to see this put on the shelf for another 15 years.”

Former councilwoman Carlen Petersen said it’s the community’s input that sets this plan apart from others that have come before it.

“We have one of the best downtowns in the state and it’s terribly underutilized,” Petersen said. “I was a council member for six years. I saw constants come and go, I saw plans come and go, and we still are not very far ahead of where we were in 2004.

“The big difference in this particular proposal, is you have incredible citizen input in this,” she continued. “I think our consultants did an incredible job of taking a lot of different opinions, diverse opinions, of what people want for their downtown, and incorporated it into an exceedingly flexible plan.”

That plan includes a variety of strategies that would help develop the waterfront to its full potential.

The first is the creation of a dynamic public waterfront open space that would include a unique destination, a variety of active and passive spaces and year-round community programming.

Fostering an active frame around Coachman Park to attract park users that would include the introduction of new amenities as well increased safety is the second strategy consultants recommended.

Other recommendations in the plan include demolition of the Harborview Center, relocation of city hall and the creation of a waterfront cafe and rooftop event space at the Clearwater Main Library. The plan also calls for incentives to create high- and low-rise mixed-use development that includes rental and retail properties.

One to three referendums will be needed to put all of the strategies in place, Delk said, as well as a special legislative act in early 2018. The first of the referendums can be held as soon as November, according to city attorney Pam Aiken.

A draft plan was presented to council in November and as a result of additional council and resident feedback, consultants with HR&A added a number of extra features to the plan, including creation of 74 additional parking spaces; water-based programming that will include a splash pad, rain catcher fountain and children’s water play area; new restroom facilities; and adjustment and relocation of the bandshell.

Implementation of the plan would be carried out in two phases.

Phase one elements would include removal of surface parking, design and construction of park elements north of Cleveland Street, demolition of the Harborview Center and solicitation of redevelopment proposals, construction of a civic gateway, planning and development of a library cafe or restaurant and the redevelopment of private lots.

Phase 2 calls for expansion of the park south of Cleveland Street, including expansion of the bluff walk to the south, relocation of city hall and the solicitation of redevelopment proposals.

Launch of Phase 1 could be expected in 2019, with Phase 2 launching five years later.

• In related news, the city announced it will move forward with the purchase of a vacant 1.4-acre lot located across the street from city hall, which is currently owned by Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

The property, which sits on the southwest corner of Osceola Avenue and Pierce Street, has been of great interest to the Church of Scientology, which offered the aquarium $4.25 million three years ago.

According to Aiken, a purchase contract for the property by the city will be presented for approval during the council’s regular meeting on March 16.
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