CLEARWATER — The crowd of city officials and onlookers was small and the wind off the water brisk as the city broke ground March 20 on the $6.5 million renovation of the Seminole Street boat ramp in the North Marina area.
The aging boat ramp area, with its lonely, grassy point and seawall for fishing the shoreline of the Intracoastal Waterway, will now allow for more cars and boats than before.
In addition to new restrooms, landscaping, a pedestrian trail along the waterfront, floating docks, a kayak launch area, and two new parking areas, the addition of brighter lighting will make the area more family friendly, said Zach George, the owner of a store and bait shop across the parking lot from the boat ramps.
“The city has been talking about doing this for a while, that’s why I wanted to own the shop,” said George, who has owned Wet Lines Bait & Tackle for two years. “Once the lighting is improved, it will be easier to put boats in at night. Families and other people who like to fish at night will find it safe.”
The North Marina project includes the redesign and resurfacing of the large, asphalt apron so vehicles pulling boat trailers can easily maneuver to the ramps to drop off or pick up boats. Anglers can then pull into parking spaces long enough to hold both the truck and trailer.
Nelson Construction of Palm Harbor will do the work; the first phase should be finished in about nine months, said Michael Delk, the city’s planning and development director.
The Urban Land Institute’s $125,000 study to help boost Clearwater’s downtown suggested, among other projects, that the city rejuvenate the North Marina area, Delk said.
“We laid the ground work with the ULI study back in 2014,” he said. “The goal is to make it look a lot esthetically more pleasing, to de-industrialize it.”
The biggest challenge in redesigning the parking lots and boat ramps was repositioning electric and waterlines and other utilities, Delk said.
“The space is tight, you have to accommodate big boats and trailers, yet in spite of that we’ve increased the number of car and boat parking spaces. And that’s rather extraordinary.”
Delk and other city officials sought resident input on the best ways to develop and revitalize the North Marina area, a 12-square block area that still looks more industrial, or “dismal” in the words of one resident. The Seminole Street boat ramp is a big step toward turning the marina and surrounding waterfront into a booming tourist waterfront, city officials said.
Private developers, however, have chipped away at the North Marina property.
KSK Marina, also across the parking lot from the boat ramps, was purchased for $8.1 million by Scientology-connected developer Brian Andrus. He has reportedly bought more than $12 million in real estate in the North Marina area, including parcels the city eyed for the construction of a waterfront hotel and restaurants. Andrus has site plan approval on the properties he now owns, Delk said.
“The property acquisitions in the area have been no factor in the plans we have generated,” Delk told the Beacon. “Our mission or desired outcomes have not been altered. The couple of site plans approved are consistent with allowable uses for the area — residential development in the area is supported.