CLEARWATER – The completion of four steps in the next year and a half will be critical to downtown Clearwater’s redevelopment.
That’s what Amanda Thompson, director of the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency, told City Council members during an Oct. 1 workshop as she unveiled strategy for an 18-month action plan she’s hoping city leaders will adopt at an Oct. 29 meeting.
The steps are:
• Create and share authentic positive stories about downtown Clearwater.
• Begin construction on Imagine Clearwater.
• Permit 600 housing units.
• Attract $100 million of private investment.
“There’s a huge desire to have this vibrant, livable downtown,” Thompson said. “We have the framework and assets in place.”
She noted that, with Tampa’s and St. Petersburg’s waterfronts being mostly built out, “I’ve heard from developers that this is the next place.”
Thompson said the “work, live and play” concept was the best approach to downtown development. She said some unknowns will likely be in play the next 18 months, including the condition of the local real-estate market, but the one known is that the city’s mayor and manager will be in place throughout the timeframe.
“Most importantly, we have stable leadership to March of 2020,” she said.
Mayor George Cretekos will face term limits and City Manager Bill Horne will be retiring at that time.
One challenge, Thompson said, is continuing to fight a perception that Clearwater is “risk adverse.” Instead, she wants people to consider the city as “committed.”
One step in that direction was the city’s recent decision to simplify the permitting process in some cases by eliminating the need for public hearings by allowing staff to approve proper applications. Also, the city removed parking guidelines and requirements for many situations.
In regard to promoting the downtown, a new logo and website has been developed, Thompson said, and “wayfinding” signage is going out for bid in an effort to direct people around downtown.
Furthermore, a fulltime public relations employee will soon be hired and a social media campaign will be a focus.
Taking center stage also will be downtown events that bring the holiday season to life.
“We want people to know we are lively, and not just about concerts,” Thompson said of her desire to offer great variety in the city’s core and not just be known for waterfront musical performances at Coachman Park or shows at Capitol Theatre.
As a result, she has planned “something to do every day” between Nov. 19 and Dec. 30.
That will include rotating retail vendors in Second Century Studios, a downtown carnival Dec. 7-9, holiday-themed movies in Station Square Park, and a Dec. 21 street-level holiday production where an area of downtown will be blocked off.
As for Imagine Clearwater, the city’s ambitious $55 million master-plan overhaul of 60 acres west of Osceola Avenue between Drew Street to the north and Court Street to the south and including Coachman Park, public feedback was provided in August during a series of open meetings that showcased the 15-percent design.
Underway now and to be completed by Oct. 29 is a parking study that will present ideas to create new slots that are being eliminated by Imagine Clearwater.
“We need to be smart where we place them,” Thompson said. “From them, we need people to walk down Cleveland and Main streets, therefore supporting our businesses and restaurants, to get to Imagine Clearwater. We need to be truly integrated.”
Next comes the pursuit of developers for the city-owned parcels associated with Imagine Clearwater.
They include the City Hall site, the lot across the street from it, and the Harborview Center – a location considered the gateway to Imagine Clearwater and set for demolition.
“Nothing is more exciting to investors than seeing dirt turning,” said Thompson, who expected to focus on developer recruitment in May.
The construction of apartments is another step during the next 18 months.
“We can’t emphasize enough that this is a safe, clean place to live,” said Thompson, who noted the importance of recently renewing an annual agreement with the city’s Police Department for two fulltime downtown officers.
Meanwhile, two parcels are being released this month for the potential creation of housing – 3-plus acres between South Martin Luther King Jr. and South Washington avenues and then 2-plus acres at 1250 Cleveland St.
Another is a warehouse and the greenspace around it on South Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue.
“That’s our best chance for that destination restaurant/brewery/entertainment venue,” Thompson said of the parcel.
She added, “These are three key pieces the CRA has owned for quite a while going out for redevelopment.”
Thompson said an influx of apartment residents is a critical element for the business district.
“I hear all the time that without people living downtown we don’t make it past year one or year two,” she said of potential business owners she’s trying to recruit. “We need ongoing foot traffic.”
Thompson said her goal is to establish four to seven new restaurants and/or bars during the 18 months.
What does Thompson want to hear once 2020 arrives?
In closing she presented the council with five samples of commentary she desires:
• “I decided to open my restaurant because the city committed to building Imagine Clearwater and I see construction. The permit process was predictable and I know what I had to do.”
• “It was tough with Coachman Park closed for a year, but the city continued to support events on Cleveland Street and in Station Square.”
• “Between the Dalí Museum pop-up, murals and all the art events put on by the merchants, I can experience something cultural every day of the week.”
• “I rented an apartment in downtown because I’m in walking distance to four restaurants and pubs that I love.”
•“With the city’s focus on quality of life through walkability, greenspace and public art, it was a natural place for us to invest.”