CLEARWATER — City residents got a sneak preview of the $65 million “Imagine Clearwater” waterfront redesign over four nights in early December. The curious residents showed up for a detailed look at the project at 30 percent completion at the Main Library, Countryside Library, Countryside Mall and the North Greenwood Recreation Center.
After watching 3D videos simulating drone flyovers of the terraces and gardens, and wearing special goggles for a virtual reality tour of the renovated Main Library, everyone got a chance to give their opinion. Residents filled out comment cards or took their criticisms directly to city planners at each viewing.
Michael Delk, the deputy city manager in charge of Imagine Clearwater, described the philosophy of the redesign to residents who attended each night’s reveal.
Coachman Commons will be “a public space available 365 days a year with art, events, and activations for residents and visitors alike,” Delk told residents who had come to Clearwater Countryside Library on Dec. 4 to see the park’s new design.
For Delk, the terraces, water features and unique landscaping “highlight the city’s unique assets” and he calls the redesigned waterfront acreage “a high-quality arts destination that uses light, sound and technology to engage visitors — a form of public art in and of itself.”
At the park’s entrance at the top of the bluff, a tall steel structure topped with a flame beckons visitors to enter the recreation area. Known as the Civic Gateway, the entrance also consists of a wide walkway that descends into the park. A man-made stream with a series of pools cascades down the hill next to the walkway. At the bottom, a low building backs into the hill. The structure houses restrooms and ticket windows for events in the 4,000-seat outdoor amphitheater a short walk away.
In other parts of the park, there is a large water feature with slides for kids, and landscaping with pergolas, unroofed terraces, patios, decks, and landings with unique lines of sight around every corner.
In yet another part of the park visitors will come upon a lake and towering Japanese pagoda, lighting features, Japanese garden-inspired landscaping, and flickering torches. This part of Coachman Commons is a nod to Nagano, Clearwater’s sister city in Japan, Delk told the crowd.
For kids and families, Coachman Gardens and Playground is a place where art and play structures are indiscernible; where kids can scramble and climb safe playground equipment.
Clearwater resident Jason Strotheide said he liked what he saw, but said he has concerns.
“I think it’s beautiful, a flagship, but a lack of parking and infrastructure being in place before the park opening will create issues,” he said. He also wants to see a few small restaurants along the waterfront of the park. Some “small, retail ventures,” he said.
Dani and Brent Hall said they like the park’s features and design, but worry the landscaping – trees, shrubs, gardens, and lawns – aren’t native to Florida. They know landscaping isn’t yet finished, but want the city to use Florida-friendly techniques.
“On first impression, we see a whole lot of grass and lawn,” said Dani Hall, who said the couple is using native plants and water-retention techniques on their own property. “There are a lot of places in Coachman Park where you could put native plants and species. Lawn is expensive to upkeep because it requires more water than native plants.”
The perennial issue of downtown — a lack of parking — worried several residents who said the park’s design showed a shortage for amphitheater events.
“This is a ‘why spend’ of $65 or so million dollars,” Strotheide said. “There are 250 to 300 parking spaces, which means the entire north basin has parking for boat slips, but those may be going away. If you look at the master plan, none of the parking spaces are there.”
Delk told them the Imagine Clearwater will have enough parking for Coachman Park visitors. Parking for live concerts will be off-site and elsewhere.
Sarah Vargo liked the new park design.
“It connects people who go to the beach with the park,” Vargo said. “You can take a ferry to the beach or you can take a ferry from the beach to Coachman Park, where you have a beautiful park to walk through. You have everything from Japanese gardens, you have local restaurants up the hill in downtown, you have this and that.”
The city will show the park in its 60-percent-finished phase in spring 2020, Delk said.