Mayor Frank Hibbard

Mayor Frank Hibbard

The city of Clearwater’s tax base is seriously out of balance. We depend way too much on residents to carry the city’s tax load — in fact, over 65% of the city’s operating budget is covered by tax payments by residents, not businesses.

We must also diversify our economy away from being too dependent on tourism. If we have learned anything from 9-11, the Great Recession, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and red tide, it’s that tourism jobs can be fickle. And with the COVID-19 pandemic wearing on and making things tough for many of our residents, it’s more important than ever to find ways to reduce that tax burden while bringing more stable, high-paying job opportunities for Clearwater residents.

That’s why I am asking residents to vote yes in November on the Clearwater Landings referendum to redevelop part of the Landings golf course site. By allowing the city to work with a top-notch local developer to build a light industrial park on the city-owned site of the Landings Golf Club, we will facilitate the creation of more than 1,700 stable on-site jobs paying an average of $60,000 a year plus benefits.

In turn, the lease payments to the city from the site will go from a paltry $120,000 over the next 10 years to over $2.1 million. And when you add in the taxes the companies in the park will pay, the total contribution to the city, county and school system will be an estimated $26 million over just the first 10 years.

The development, which would be privately financed, built and managed by one of the Tampa Bay area’s top commercial real estate developers, Harrod Properties, would also include a 12.3-acre golf “aqua” driving range and a new 8.3-acre public park. These amenities will create a significant buffer to the only adjacent residential areas to the south. The rest of the site is bordered by Keene Road to the west and the Clearwater Airpark to the east.

It’s important that residents understand that modern light industrial means well-paying stable companies that are assembling products like medical equipment and doing research. It won’t be an Amazon distribution center with low-wage jobs and trucks coming and going all day, and it won’t be a heavy manufacturing facility that would add noise and pollution to the area.

I have been asked why the project can’t be done in the existing industrial buildings along Hercules Avenue. That location wouldn’t work for several reasons: The buildings in that area are individually owned, and it wouldn’t be feasible for the city to convince the owners to sell them, then tear the buildings down and start over to get a modern Class A facility like the one planned for the Landings site. But more importantly, those are occupied businesses employing Clearwater neighbors. We want to create jobs, not displace jobs.

For golfers, play will continue to be available at two other municipal courses within several miles, and the driving range, which would be run by Clearwater’s Huston family, would provide a new recreational opportunity for the area.

We are consistently losing the opportunity to attract light industrial companies that would like to locate in Clearwater but are forced to go to nearby cities like Largo, Pinellas Park, and Bradenton. In fact, Harrod Properties has fully leased, very similar and extremely successful parks in both Largo and the Lakewood Ranch area of Bradenton.

As you decide whether to vote in favor of the referendum, I also ask you to consider several facts about the city’s parks and green space. When compared to its total acreage, Clearwater has the second-highest amount of park space in the state and since 2000 we have added 185 acres to our inventory. It’s important for the city to bring in revenue so we can continue to pay for all of our city’s services, which includes making our existing parks best-in-class.

I urge you to make your decision based on the facts, and to vote yes, which will help us diversify our tax base in Clearwater — a move that will help all of our residents.

Frank Hibbard is mayor of the city of Clearwater.