CLEARWATER — Plans for two major downtown improvements are lined up like a series of dominoes waiting to fall into place. All they need, officials say, is a $28 million push.
The bus terminal on Park Street is one of the busiest transit hubs in Tampa Bay, but the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority has deemed the 40-year-old facility functionally obsolete.
For more than a decade, the authority has been planning to replace it with a state-of-the-art transit station on vacant land owned by the city of Clearwater at the corner of Court Street and Myrtle Avenue.
But money has always been the barrier.
Next month the transit authority will request a $28 million grant from the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity program to pay for the station. The program, known as RAISE, is the Biden administration’s version of a federal effort started more than a decade ago to improve the nation’s infrastructure.
It will be the third time the transit authority has applied for Department of Transportation funds to build a new Clearwater facility. But David Allbritton, a member of the City Council and the transit authority board, said this year he’s more optimistic.
Allbritton said the transit authority has commitments for letters of support from 100 businesses, local governments and others, including U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist and state Rep. Ben Diamond, both St. Petersburg Democrats.
“It’s almost like getting excited for Christmas,” Allbritton said. “I don’t know what we could do if we don’t get it this year because we’ve done everything.”
The transit authority’s success in obtaining the federal grant will also have major implications for the city.
Last year, the City Council selected the Park Street bus terminal property as the preferred site for a new City Hall and public parking facility. But the city needs the transit authority to move out first.
On Thursday, the City Council declared its 1-acre parcel on the corner of Court Street and Myrtle Avenue as surplus, the first step needed to swap the property for the authority’s Park Street site. The Court Street land is valued at $3.6 million compared to the $1.8 million Park Street lot, but city officials have agreed to donate the $1.8 million difference in land value to help fund the transit station.
“This project is our most pressing countywide transportation need,” Mayor Frank Hibbard wrote in a letter of support to Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.
In preparation for the City Hall and parking facility, Clearwater officials are also working to purchase four parcels adjacent to the Park Street property that are owned by Pinellas County.
Clearwater vacated the 50-year-old City Hall on Osceola Avenue in January 2019 to free the site for the downtown waterfront redevelopment. Officials have since been renting the sixth floor of One Clearwater Tower for temporary government offices.
The $34 million station is described as “intermodal,” meaning it would accommodate multiple forms of transportation. Plans call for 16 bus bays, capacity for future passenger rail service, bicycle and scooter sharing, and a green design including solar panels and electric bus charging stations.
The Park Street station cannot accommodate all of the vehicles needed for the 14 routes it serves, so buses often park on the street. The transit authority’s electric buses are also unable to fit under the aging and leaky roof, Allbritton said.
If the transit authority is successful in its federal grant request, most of the remainder of the $34 million project will be paid for through Florida Department of Transportation funds. But Allbritton said the federal funds are critical.
“If we don’t get recognized this year for some money, I don’t know what else we could do to make that happen,” Allbritton said.