Did you know that there are 18 restaurants in the immediate Cleveland Street district (meaning the four blocks on Cleveland extending out one block on either side)? That’s almost as many restaurants as Dunedin’s Main Street district!
Yet we often hear people say “There is nothing downtown”. It’s been declared by some proponents of the new Aquarium project. We’ve even heard it from a city official or two.
It’s too easy to blame the merchants (or supposed lack thereof) for downtown’s shortcomings. But that’s a red herring. Here is just a partial list of the types of food and drink available in the District:
- Ice Cream
- Deli sandwiches
- Middle Eastern
The problem isn’t really a lack of dining options or variety. It’s a matter of promotion and traffic.
Here are just a few reasons why there is so little customer traffic on Cleveland Street:
- The streetscape was designed with traffic-calming in mind. As a result, there are fewer cars on Cleveland Street and less on-street parking than there would be otherwise.
- Parking options are inadequately marked and difficult to find.
- The Aquarium Trolley stop is right smack in front of the Harborview entrance, which means that 150,000 visitors per year never stray more than 20 feet from the entrance. And the trolley’s route avoids Cleveland Street entirely. The passengers don’t even know that the District exists.
- Tens of thousands of people walk through the covered walkway along the front of the Harborview as they go from and to the water taxi in the marina. During that lengthy walk, there isn’t a single sign about downtown or its restaurants due to the City’s signage restrictions. These pedestrians don’t even know that the District exists.
The streetscape is permanent and changing it isn’t an option.
Parking can be more clearly marked with directional signs, and discussions are underway between the City and Downtown Development groups.
This leaves the Harborview’s visitors as a resource that is shockingly untapped.
The idea of moving the trolley route onto Cleveland Street is supported by virtually everyone, including the merchants, the Aquarium, the Downtown Development Board, the Jolley Trolley, and of course the Downtown Neighborhood Association. (Slight modifications have to be made to streetscape to accommodate the trolleys, but they are relatively minor in nature.) This decision is now in the hands of the City. Everyone else has agreed.
The Harborview walkway is the next priority. We’re engaged in meetings with the City to find out what can and can’t be done.
Another priority is to draw families into the District by offering fun things for the kids to do, such as an interactive Dolphin Trail, or collecting charms from the merchants for a bracelet, or scavenger hunts, etc.
These are all things that can be done now rather than waiting until years down the road.
(When the Capitol Theatre re-opens in November, this will be another resource that must be tapped. It will require its own promotional strategy to encourage theater-goers to come downtown early to eat and drink before the show starts.)
For the record, here are the 18 food and drink establishments: Chiang Mai, Cafe 421, Tony’s Ristorante, Capitol Beer House, Starbuck’s, Dunkin Donuts/Baskin Robbins, The Loft, Mr. B’s, Top 40, Grahame’s Gourmet Cafe, Street Side Cafe, Cleveland Street Cafe, Angie’s, Emily’s, Hispania, Cafe Milano, Mana Mana, Bogie’s Food & Flicks.
What’s the difference between downtown Clearwater and downtown Dunedin? Unlike Clearwater, Dunedin has as many shops (gifts, art, antiques, etc) as it does restaurants. It has a much broader shopping experience. This can happen in downtown Clearwater, too, but not until more people are walking on Cleveland Street.