Master Plan accepted unanimously!

Clearwater has a brand new, modern, comprehensive Master Plan for the downtown waterfront and bluff! On February 2, the Imagine Clearwater Stakeholder Committee unanimously endorsed the Plan, and a few hour later the City Council accepted it unanimously.

This news is worth celebrating! It’s definitely a milestone for Clearwater. In this day and age, no city can be considered complete without a vibrant downtown core. A successful and attractive downtown is and always will be essential to a sense of a hometown identity. It’s happening all over the country, including our neighbors (some might even say competitors), St. Pete and Tampa. Now we won’t be left behind.

Kudos to everyone who pushed, prodded and worked on this all along the way. It was years in the making. But this is only the beginning. The next step is for the City to initiate the implementation planning process, which will heavily involve both the public and private sectors along with citizen stakeholder groups. We’ll keep you well-informed here on this site.

Master Plan to be presented to the City Council

The six-month Imagine Clearwater waterfront master planning process, led by HR&A Consultants, is about to conclude with a presentation of the plan to the City Council on Thursday, February 2 at 6pm at City Hall. Please be there if you can, not only to show the Council that residents really care about this project but also to voice your support (or disagreement if you are so inclined).

You can view an advance copy by clicking on “THE PLAN” on the right. It’s a comprehensive and creative document, well worth the time to read. (It’s a large file and may take a bit of time to open.)

In our opinion, HR&A and their associates did a very commendable job capturing and incorporating the most frequently-voiced ideas, suggestions and priorities from the seven community workshops a few months back. Several of us attended every workshop and we were struck by the broad agreement among the participants across the city. The priorities voiced in the Countryside workshop were nearly identical to those in the Downtown workshop.

Once the plan is presented to the Council by HR&A, the city staff will ask the council to accept the proposed master plan and to schedule a workshop to begin the implementation process. We are assured that the public will be given opportunities to provide input throughout.

This is a major milestone for Clearwater. The consultants rightly refer to it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Let’s make the most of it!

Editorial: Trust the process

editorialDear Mayor, City Council and City Leaders,

I was inspired by the book American Icon about Alan Mullaly, considered by many to have been the greatest CEO in American history after resurrecting both Boeing and Ford from ruin. His mantra was “Trust the process”, and he never wavered from it.

On a very much smaller scale, our downtown and waterfront have been in need of resurrection for half a century. A variety of approaches have been attempted. Referendums have come and gone. Ambitious plans have come to naught.

Is this downtown’s last chance for greatness? Many of us feel that we are at a crossroads that is in serious danger of becoming a dead end.

You wisely came up with a process that had never really been fully attempted: engaging the community as a whole in creating downtown’s future — Imagine Clearwater. The goal is to end up with a master plan that makes a successful referendum a foregone conclusion because it enjoys such broad support in the community.

You went about this brilliantly. You started with a blank slate. You looked at national trends. You hired top-notch consultants. You created a diverse stakeholder committee. And you engaged in an unprecedented level of community input. The results are just as you intended. You have a stunning master plan that was instantly embraced and applauded by a wide range of citizens and stakeholders, many of whom had never before seen eye to eye.

For the first time ever, a vision — and a plan — for downtown’s future is getting broad agreement within the community. Please don’t waver now. Trust the process. It’s working.

Sincerely,

Jack Mortimer, President, Downtown Neighborhood Association

Master Plan Issues – Part 3 – Parking

[Note: This website applauds the overall master plan. This post is an attempt to predict and discuss a possible area of concern that may arise.]

When people view the master plan, invariably the first question is: Where’s the parking?

harborview-greyfield-2The master plan dispenses with the massive “greyfield” parking lot and transforms it into an open green space and concert venue. It’s a loss of a lot of parking spaces, but there’s no need for panic. The plan calls for 200 parking spaces in the waterfront area and it points out there are 4,000 public parking spaces within a short walk. And by short walk is meant just a few blocks, closer than at the St. Pete waterfront.

strollingAnd there’s something to be said for compelling people to walk through downtown. That’s one of the main incentives for investing in the waterfront in the first place – to revive and rejuvenate downtown Clearwater.

driverless-shuttleThere’s another reason for not including parking areas in the priceless waterfront: the whole nature of transportation is about to change. Driverless cars and shuttles will change the game.

Carnegie Mellon is considered the birthplace of autonomous vehicle technology, and last week the director of their Smart Transportation Research Institute stated that it no longer makes sense to place large parking lots and garages in prime locations. Instead, smart planners should create remote parking areas where autonomous vehicles can wait after dropping off their passengers. These parking areas can also be served by continuously-running driverless shuttles.

This game-changer might seem to be distant in the future, but it’s actually not. Automakers and tech companies have invested tens of billions in this technology, and it’s already at a point where autonomous shuttles can operate safely in a defined downtown neighborhood. In a few years they will be commonplace.

driverless-shuttle-2The master plan should ideally provide more areas for drop-off and pick-up and special lanes/areas for autonomous shuttles in the waterfront area. There is plenty of vacant land in and around the downtown area for “remote” parking purposes (and in any case, there are already 4,000 spaces available).

In a way, we should be grateful that this master plan is taking place now rather than five years ago. Back then we wouldn’t have been thinking in terms of autonomous vehicles, and there’s little doubt that valuable waterfront and bluff parcels would have been set aside for parking lots or garages. But now the future of transportation is crystal clear and we can design accordingly.

Master Plan Issues – Part 2 – Event noise and traffic

[Note: This website applauds the overall master plan. This post is an attempt to predict and discuss a possible area of concern that may arise.]

Here is another aspect that will call for some give and take, particularly for some downtown residents. It’s obvious to everyone that downtown needs increased activity and attractions in order to become vibrant and successful. But it’s equally obvious that downtown is also a residential neighborhood. There are currently 300 homes within the scope of the waterfront, which will more than double with the proposed development along the bluff. Downtown will be one of the largest residential neighborhoods in the city.

jazz-holidaySo the positioning of the music venue is an important evaluation, particularly the stage location and the direction it faces. Similarly, the programming goals must be carefully considered. What constitutes a reasonable amount of major concerts and events per year? How much expansion is appropriate in a residential neighborhood? What are acceptable decibel levels?

A disclaimer must be stated here. It would be easy for some readers of this article to assume that downtown residents – particularly in Water’s Edge – have a “not in my back yard” attitude. But this is very far from the truth. Water’s Edge and Pierce 100 folks have been more active and supportive of Imagine Clearwater than any other citizen group by far. Almost one for one, we want a lively and dynamic downtown. The vast majority of us are big fans of Jazz Holiday, Blues Festival and Pierce Street Market, and we would like to see more. But at the same time, it is fair to ask for an approach that supports a reasonable quality of life, both noise-wise and traffic-wise.

win-winThere is no doubt that a solution can be found that is a win-win for everyone involved, and the City will need our input in deciding where and how to draw a line. Please communicate your thoughts and suggestions to City leaders here and/or clicking on the big yellow button on the right of this page.

Master Plan Issues – Part 1 – Development on the bluff

[Note: This website applauds the overall master plan. This post is an attempt to predict and discuss a possible area of concern that may arise.]

give-and-takeIt goes without saying that there will be some compromises to be made in preserving the natural setting of the waterfront and bluff. The reality is that some development will be necessary in order to help fund the rest of it, and the bluff and Osceola streetscape are the best candidates.

The master plan is very creative in preserving the waterfront and lower bluff, and there appears to be no development planned in that specific area (other than a new stage and its associated infrastructure for events).

draft-plan-developmentHowever, there are two zones where the master plan proposes some development. (Click photo to enlarge.)

The first zone is on the current City Hall parking lot. It would likely be a condominium tower similar to Water’s Edge, but it would be set back farther from the water so that it would not block the view of Water’s Edge residents. This is pretty much the same two-tower concept that was originally planned by the Water’s Edge developers before the housing market collapsed.

The second zone is next to the library and it would cover both the upper parking lot that currently sits next to the Harborview and also a portion of the current Harboview building footprint. It would likely be four or five stories tall with shops and restaurants on the bottom floor and residential above. It would be set back far enough from Cleveland Street to allow for a large open plaza (and water view) on the corner.

Most downtown residents will probably accept these two development zones as a reasonable fact of life. In order for downtown to become the vibrant center that we all want, we badly need more residential development. The bluff is by far the most attractive area for investment. If you are opposed, you can let City leaders know here.

Master Plan unveiled!

unveilingWe all knew that the consultants hired by the City are among the best in the world at reinventing urban centers, but we still weren’t quite sure what to expect. Would they listen to residents? Would they preserve our waterfront? Well, we shouldn’t have worried. Not only did they listen but they went beyond what most of us could have imagined.

A standing-room only crowd attended the unveiling last Wednesday, and you’d be hard-pressed to find someone that didn’t like the plan. A lot.

You can view the presentation here: Draft Master Plan – Nov 2016. It takes some careful studying to visually grasp exactly what is being proposed. It’s a very different perspective than the current scene, and it can be difficult to conceive of a downtown without the Harborview, the enormous asphalt parking lot, the fortress-like City Hall, and much of lower Drew and Cleveland streets.

draft-plan-four-sectionsIn a nutshell, the plan divides the waterfront into four basic sections: The Cove, The Green, The Garden, and the Gateway. Each has its own purpose, and it’s a very creative design. (Click on photos to enlarge.)

draft-plan-rendering-of-four-sectionsThe Green will sit where the current parking lot sprawls. The Garden will sit where Coachman Park currently exists. And the Cove will sit where the tennis courts and scruffy parking lot currently lie below City Hall. The Gateway sits where the current Harborview squats.

draft-plan-view-from-the-bridgeHere is a rendering of the view from the bridge. All travelers driving to the beach by car or trolley will see it, and it will be plenty enticing. It’s a far cry from what they see now (mainly asphalt). It’s certainly a new identity, not only for downtown but for the City as a whole. No longer will “mainland Clearwater” appear to be so behind-the-times.

draft-plan-view-from-the-greenAnd this image just might be the hardest concept of all to process. It’s the view from the end of the old Harborview parking lot, right in front of what will be the new stage/bandstand. Notice anything missing? Yes! The Harborview and its parking lot are gone, replaced by a covered promenade and an enormous open public green space.

draft-plan-view-of-gatewayAnd finally, here is the view of the new Gateway, looking from the street in front of the Capitol Theatre. Wow, what a difference. Downtown will finally be visually connected to the waterfront. The most important corner in downtown Clearwater will be open and inviting.

These are just a very few of the photos in the master plan presentation, so please take a look at the link above to see the complete plan, including its implementation phases. And note the proposed Bluff Walk, which takes advantage of our unique geography.

There isn’t much time to waste. There is a relatively short window of not much more than a month for us to provide feedback to the City about the draft master plan before it’s finalized, likely in February. You can provide your input directly to the City here. And please be sure to tell them what you like about the plan along with any suggestions.

There are four issues that are sure to lead to discussion and perhaps even some controversy: parking, development, noise, and last but definitely not least, financing & implementation. We’ll be addressing the first three issues in upcoming posts. Potential financing and implementation strategies will be addressed by the City once the master plan is finalized, and we have been assured that citizens will be included every step of the way. (We’ll have more details of the timing of the next steps as they emerge.)

kudosCity leaders deserve major praise for making this process so inclusive and transparent. Residents have been intimately involved throughout the process. Our input has very clearly influenced the direction of the master plan and the results are extremely positive.

Report on the first workshops for Imagine Clearwater

Standing room only 2The first set of community workshops took place on August 1, 2 and 3. They were key steps to crafting a new master plan for the downtown waterfront, park and bluff. So how did they go? Well, we were pleased. More than pleased.

Several of us attended all three community workshops because, honestly, we weren’t sure what to expect. Particularly out in Countryside. Would they support our vision for downtown? Would they even care?

It turns out people do care. A lot. The first workshop at the Holiday Inn drew more than 80 people. As did the second workshop at Countryside Library. And the third at the Main Library drew 120! Standing room only. City officials were mighty impressed.

And even more impressive, everyone was on the same page. The project leader from HR&A (the consultants running the planning process) said afterward, “We were blown away with how positive everyone was. There were no naysayers or ‘just fine like it is’ attitudes.” Apparently Clearwater is proving to be more open and supportive than most places they go. How about that!

Imagine Clearwater scope

Click to enlarge

The workshops started off with a presentation by the consultants about the scope of the project (66 acres covering the Coachman Park & Bluff parcel, the City Hall parcel, and the marina). They also showed numerous examples of popular waterfront parks around the country. Then we broke up into workgroups to brainstorm ideas.

The vast majority of ideas involved the Coachman parcel. Not much was said (yet) about the City Hall parcel. There was no doubt whatsoever that everyone wants a beautiful park with activities, features, and programming. So that’s where the attention went.

Popular ideas included a splash park, interactive fountains & water features, more trees & shade, walking paths, a bicycle path (ideally connected to the Pinellas Trail), steps on the waterfront, creative lighting, dog walk area, botanical gardens, movable seats and tables on the waterfront, pavilion on the bluff, sunset view areas, a large concert area, a smaller stage area for plays & gatherings, and, unanimously, removal of the lower parking lot and Harborview Center.

LibraryIt was also apparent that the majority of the participants prefer open and natural terrain in the park and bluff, which could severely limit new construction. Thus many people urged that portions of the library be re-purposed for cultural and commercial activities given its prime location on the bluff.

Clearwater logoThe clear recurring theme of the park was “water”. (Clear… water… right?) The park design will reflect this. And another theme was “Clearwater’s family room“, meaning that the park should be primarily designed for locals and families, which will in turn likely draw tourists from the beach.

Parking is most definitely a challenge that needs to be solved. But it was virtually unanimous that the Coachman parcel isn’t the place for it. The consultants pointed out that there are 5,000 public parking spaces within a reasonable walk.

Beach traffic was also recognized as a critical problem. But as one downtown resident said: “We don’t want to become the beach’s parking lot.” Creative transit options are being evaluated, including the intriguing Beach Tran, that can be designed so as not to encroach on downtown’s greatest treasure.

The consultants and City were extremely pleased with the community response and the plethora of ideas raised. The next step is for the consultants to distill everything into a cohesive and comprehensive list over the next six weeks. After that, a new round of workshops will test the waters, so to speak, to get a sense of reactions and priorities. After all, nothing meaningful can happen without voter approval in a referendum. And the final step will be crafting an actual master plan that can serve as the basis for the referendum.

We will keep you informed all the way. Stay tuned to this channel!