The cranes are in place and work has begun on a new hotel on Clearwater Beach.
CLEARWATER – New development is either planned or underway for Clearwater Beach to accommodate the brimming numbers of visitors to the area.
Geri Lopez, the director of economic development and housing for the city of Clearwater, said the growth of the beach is ongoing.
“Clearwater Beach is doing phenomenal,” she said. “Over 950,000 people visited the beach in 2013, the most we’ve had since 2003.”
Back then, 880,000 visitors showed up. The economic impact of so many people corresponds directly with the number of visitors. In 2003, those nearly 880,000 visitors spent $540 million, and the resulting impact of that was just over $1 billion.
The 2013 numbers were even more eye opening. The 950,000 visitors spent $784 million with an economic impact of $1.5 billion. That is a lot of money, with more to come based on the growth planned for the beach.
“The occupancy rates of the hotels that are there now is really high,” said Lopez. “It is over 90 percent, and when you have rates that high, it means there is a need for more rooms. Clearly developers who know the market have seen this and they have things going.”
Lopez singled out the one new hotel that is currently under construction.
“The property at 430 Gulfview is under construction right now. It is the Ocean properties on the site of the Adams Mark hotel,” she said. “It will be called the Opal Sands and will have 230 hotel rooms.”
That hotel is due for completion in the fall of 2015 and will contain a restaurant and bar and a parking garage.
The man whose finger is on the pulse of the new development is Michael Delk, the planning and development director for the city of Clearwater. He said several other projects are in the works and some should be ready to go shortly.
“The proposed new Quality Inn is getting close to the start of construction. Steve Page, a local hotel operator, is developing that property,” Delk said. “Another property getting close is on North Beach; it is another hotel believed at one time to be one of the Marriott products.”
Also, Delk pointed out that hotel operator Jeff Kierlieber has plans to add on to the Holiday Inn property.
“From what I have been told, construction is gearing up for that,” he said. “The plan is for a new separate hotel, a stand-alone independent hotel, with a parking deck.”
Kierlieber also owns the Pier 60 Hotel on the beach.
In addition to that, Delk said two or three other proposed hotels are in play, and they could be under construction in a year or so.
The sudden rush to add rooms to the inventory on Clearwater Beach came when the city decided to loosen up the regulation a few years ago that called for 50 hotel units per acre. Developers would no longer be subject to that limitation; in fact, they could build up to 150 rooms per acre. The number of rooms designated under the plan was limited to 1,385 rooms. Now they are running out.
“The hotel incentive pool has worked,” Delk said. “However, the density reserve is down to 230 units. That is all that are left, and once they are gone, they are gone. It will be back to 50 units an acre then.”
Delk said the 150 units an acre allowed developers to build hotels that were somewhat less expensive than the massive resorts.
Because the density-pool rooms are running out, Delk said developers are moving ahead quickly with plans they hope to get approved while there are still some rooms available.
“Tony Fernandez, a developer with the Mainstream group, is coming ahead with some plans and is getting development approval in place,” he said. “Anybody who has been standing on the sidelines and watching is seeing the reserve getting smaller and smaller.”
The reason the city loosened its density regulations was because too many condominiums were being built, squeezing out hotels which are critical for a robust tourist trade. The city’s plan, which has worked, was to encourage more hotel development.
Yet there is a downside. Clearwater Beach has very limited space. There is nowhere to grow, so all this new and future development will have to share what space there is. Something has to give, and it appears parking is now the new issue on the beach.
Trisha Rodriguez of The Tropic Boat Tours heads up a Chamber of Commerce Committee on parking on the beach. She said parking is a serious problem for visitors and residents alike; the numbers don’t lie.
“Our studies show that 94 percent of employees drive their personal vehicles to work in season. There are 7,700 employees who drive 6,600 cars,” she said. “That is a lot of cars for only 2,600 parking spaces on the beach.”
Rodriguez stressed that a new survey is underway on the beach and she urges everyone, visitors and residents alike, to fill it out. The information they gather from the survey will be important to solving the parking problem. The survey can be filled out online at clearwaterbeachparkingsurvey.com.
“It is important that we address the perception of the parking issue. It is crucial to our success,” he said.
Rodriguez said the parking issue cannot stand in the way of continued growth on Clearwater Beach.
“We want the new building and the beautiful plans,” she said. “We’re not against anything new, but we do see that attention is needed for the problems. With new building comes new greater problems and with that comes greater solutions. This isn’t something we want to stop. We want it to be great and a good destination. We just want people not to think twice about coming to Clearwater Beach; we just want to be able to handle their needs.”
Delk says the parking issue can be solved as soon as the authorities change the way they look at the issue.
“We have to look at parking as infrastructure and not as land use,” he said. “Hotels have to provide all of their own parking. In the long term, you will see surface lots make way for new hotel construction.”
That means more parking garages built perhaps as part of the hotel building itself.
However, none of this dampens the enthusiasm of the city officials as they look at the future of Clearwater Beach.
“I think Clearwater Beach is a very hot commodity; it has become a big draw,” said Delk. “It is walkable; it is exciting and has a little something for everybody. The hotel rooms are full, right now it is riding the wave, pun intended.”
Lopez added her words of encouragement.
“We’ve been working hard over the past two or three years, telling people that Clearwater Beach isn’t the same as 20 or 30 years ago when you visited your aunt or grandmother. It just isn’t the same.”