Downtown Partnership names new executive director

Jay PolglazeFormer City Councilmember and long-time downtown champion Jay Polglaze has been named the first Executive Director of the Clearwater Downtown Partnership (CDP).

The CDP is a non-profit group of downtown businesses, property owners, developers, citizens and civic groups. Its goal is to promote the revitalization and economic redevelopment of downtown.

Jay is well-known to us and we would be hard-pressed to find a stronger ally in our goals for a vibrant downtown community. He is fully committed to the cause and says: “I firmly believe we are on the verge of a new era of prosperity and growth. I love this community.” We couldn’t agree more!

Jay will be officially welcomed into his new role at the Clearwater Downtown Partnership’s annual Momentum Awards held on Tuesday, May 17th at the Capitol Theatre. It’s open to the public.Check-in is at 5:30pm.

Downtown update

On February 22 we held our first Downtown Neighborhood meeting of the year. As always, there was great participation with nearly 70 attendees.

The purpose of the meeting was to get an update on several key issues and learn more about the proposed City Charter changes in the March voter referendum. (Our voting recommendations are below.)

The highlights:

ULI Implementation

The search for an experienced consultant to guide the master planning process for the waterfront/park/bluff is still underway. Once a consultant is selected, we’re facing up to 30 months for the entire process to be finalized, including the referendum to get public approval on the final master plan. Yup, it’s a long time. But this project is complicated to say the least.

This Year Is Critical

Timing is everythingThe first 12 months of the planning process will be devoted to brainstorming and public input. We will be crucial to the process if we play our cards right, which means that we need to be engaged and informed every step of the way. No problem! That’s why our Association exists.

CMA Plans for Downtown

The notion of permanently expanding into downtown is completely off the table. Instead, CMA is embarking on a $45 million expansion in Island Estates. They plan to break ground in August. If funding goes as planned, it will be a 30-month project.

Harborview

As much as we want the Harborview to disappear tomorrow, we have to face an unpleasant reality. It looks like demolition is at least 30 months away. Why? There are two reasons. First, the City Council is extremely reluctant to make such a drastic change until there a master plan that has been approved by voters in a public referendum. Understandable, given past failures. Second, CMA has no other viable option for their Dolphin Tale exhibit until their new facility is completed.

Look at the Bright Side

Bright sideA lot of good things are happening downtown. Just yesterday there was a major downtown clean-up project involving more than 80 volunteers. The Skyview condo building is progressing fast. The Nolen apartments are springing up even faster. New restaurants have opened and more shops and dining options are being heavily recruited. The Church of Scientology continues its grand renovation projects. In other words, downtown is attracting investment, which will only grow in scope.

So What Can We Do to Speed Things Up?

First and foremost, we must continue to attend and participate in any and all upcoming Neighborhood Association meetings and the City’s Master Planning Forums. Our energy and engagement have a tremendous impact, more than we know.

And we can vote to remove some of the small but frustrating barriers in the City Charter that tie the hands of the City in bringing more activity to the waterfront area.

The Referendum on March 15

Last year a study was done by the 13-member Charter Review Committee and they came up with nearly 20 recommendations. The City Council voted to move forward on a number of them that could have a significant impact on downtown’s plans. The public will vote on these Referendum Questions on March 15.

YesAt our meeting, Brian Aungst, Jr., the Chair of the Charter Review Committee, explained the reasoning behind the proposed changes. He did a great job in clearing up misinformation, answering questions, and putting us at ease that the changes are safe and worthwhile. From all indications, the vast majority of the residents in attendance are planning to vote Yes on the questions, particularly the ones (5, 6 & 7) that directly affect downtown.

If you’re not voting by mail, the polling location on March 15 for downtown residents (districts 511 and 512) is the Main Library.

Please stay tuned to this station for more information!

Recent newspaper articles about downtown

News

Downtown seems to be getting more and more attention from local newspapers.

Tribune, Dec 27: Clearwater officials look to attract residential development to downtown  link

Times, Dec 24: New Clearwater boating plan added to swirl of revitalization ideas  link

Times, Dec 17: Clearwater to seek closure of downtown post office  link

Times, Dec 9: Downtown Clearwater paving project will take a while  link

Tribune, Nov 14: Clearwater floats idea of adding amenities to attract more boaters  link

Times, Nov 5: Clearwater’s downtown revitalization projects on track but will take time  link 

Recap of the quarterly downtown forum. Things are moving!

YesThe next 18 months could be the most important — and exciting — chapter for downtown in the past 60 years.

What makes this possible is last year’s brilliant ULI Study. It’s the foundation for an unprecedented level of accord and collaboration among downtown stakeholder groups.

This was very evident in the quarterly “ULI” community forum on November 2. The tone was uniformly positive and welcoming, particularly to residents. You can hear it for yourself here.

Assistant City Manager Rod Irwin kicked things off with a status report on the top 13 priorities as identified by the City based on the ULI recommendations. All are either done or in progress.

Five have been completed, including: creating a stakeholder advisory board, settling on a community forum format, identifying & earmarking downtown parcels for development, and creating a business incubator.

The rest are moving right along, including: the North Marina Master Plan, the Bluff/Coachman Master Plan preliminary stages, signage pointing into downtown, investigation about bridge lighting, revisiting downtown design guidelines, a comprehensive boating plan, city branding, and more.

Game planThe most important is the Bluff/Coachman Master Plan. The next step is to hire a consultant to run the planning process, particularly the public engagement portion. It’s a huge effort and it will take a while. But that’s a good thing. We all want this done right. Rushing things only increases the risk that the plans might be rejected by voters in the end. (Virtually nothing can be altered in Coachman Park or the bluff without voter approval.)

The planning consultant will be selected at the beginning of the year and  they’ll need a couple months to get up to speed. We can expect the planning process to kick off around March, including a series of public engagement forums. Ultimately it could take a year or more to wrap up the the master plan, and possibly up to another year before it actually comes to referendum.

Subscribe2So what does all this mean to us? Well, things are definitely going in the right direction. 2016 will be our chance to directly influence the plans for downtown. We’ll have plenty of opportunities and we need to be front and center throughout. Please keep an eye out for announcements on this site. You can follow the blog by using the Subscribe feature on the front page. (Your contact information will be kept strictly confidential.)

Cheers!

Community forum on downtown’s future – Monday Nov 2

Important dateThe City Council is holding a community forum to discuss downtown’s future. They want to brief us on their progress in implementing the Urban Land Institute study and to ask for our feedback. (Please refer to ULI’s recommendations provided to the City a year ago.)

MONDAY NOVEMBER 2, 6:00-8:00 pm, Main Library, first floor.

This is our chance to be in the loop and to have a voice in what happens to our neighborhood.

The format will be similar to the first community forum last April but with three big changes:

Representation

The City Council voted to add a representative of the neighborhoods to the advisory group at the main table! This is a major step forward for residents and we greatly appreciate it. We will be represented by an officer of the Clearwater Neighborhoods Coalition. (Our own Downtown Association is an active member.)

City Presentation

The update provided by City staff will be shorter this time, focusing more on highlights and less on small details. This leaves more time for discussion.

Public Input

AgendaIn the April meeting, there was just one opportunity for public input, and it was held just prior to the main group’s own discussion. In the new format, time is allotted for public comment both before and after the group discussion. You can download the agenda here.

Anyone who wishes to speak will get three minutes. There are only 20 minutes in each public comment slot, so brevity will be appreciated. Please be prepared!

HoytCouncilman Hoyt Hamilton: “I encourage everyone who’s interested and has an opinion to come out and express it, because we need that information to make the best decisions we can.”

Seating Arrangements

One thing that won’t change is the seating set-up. City officials explored other options but it’s almost impossible to set things up differently due to various factors, mostly having to do with audio/visual requirements. Assistant City Manager Rod Irwin reassures us that our section is not considered “second class citizens” at all. There’s just no other way to do it, especially considering that we are the single largest group in attendance.

Camaraderie

We need youThe best attitude for us to take is one of cooperation and camaraderie. The residents are officially accepted as one of the advisory groups to help guide the ULI Implementation. All the groups are in this together and we all have the same goals for downtown. It’s clear that there is a new spirit of collaboration and real progress is being made.

If you are in town on November 2, please be there to show support and to stay informed. Downtown needs you!

Markets galore!

Street market‘Tis the season for street markets and there will be a record number of them here in downtown! Saturdays in particular are going to be something special.

FARMER’S MARKET every Wednesday (starting Oct 21), 9:00 to 2:00, on Cleveland Street in the 500 block. Colorful tents and booths will be filled with farm-fresh produce, ready-to-eat foods, gourmet cheeses, live vegetable plants, orchids and a host of other items. There will be live music from 11 to 1.

NEW!!! SATURDAY MARKET (starting Oct 24), 9:00 to 2:00, on Cleveland Street in the 600 block. It will feature local organic and natural food products, body care products, pet items, household goods and arts and crafts. There will be live entertainment and special events.

NEW!!! PIERCE STREET MARKET every second Saturday (starting Oct 10), 10:00 to 4:00, under the bridge next to the marina.  It will feature more than 40 local artists and independent businesses who will sell jewelry, clothes, vintage items, crafts and food.

NEW!!! ART IN THE PARK every third Saturday (starting Nov 21), 9:00 to 2:00, in Station Square in conjunction with the Saturday Market in Station Square. Features local artists.

Milestone

This website has reached 10,000 visits!

It just goes to show how many people care about downtown and how much downtown means to the Clearwater community. Cheers!

10,000 hits

Master Plan Timetable

Good news bad newsThere’s good news and bad news. The good news is that the City has determined a course of action for the master planning process. The bad news is that it will take a while.

We knew all along that projects like this don’t happen overnight and we all agree that we have to get things right the first time. But this is a reality check.

TimelineGulp, that adds up to 33 months. Perhaps some of these time frames can be squeezed a little but they are probably realistic. This project is much different than, say, the Capitol Theatre restoration. It’s far more complex with many factors involved: the park, amphitheatre, Harborview, waterfront, bluff development, moving City Hall, a restrictive city charter, and most important of all, a make-or-break voter referendum.

The City is setting aside up to a million dollars to underwrite this planning process using primarily Community Redevelopment Agency funds.

City Investment in Downtown

InvestmentThe City’s investment in downtown has been significant. Since the most recent downtown development plan (2004), the city has invested $40 million (not including the library, which had previously been planned and funded).

Here is the breakdown of the major projects:

  • Streetscape: $15 million
  • Marina: $12 million
  • Capitol Theatre: $10 million

Still to go: the future centerpiece of downtown, Coachman Park/Waterfront/Bluff!

Harborview Update

HarborviewWithout a doubt, the number one question we’re asked is “When is the Harborview coming down?

It’s not an easy question to answer. There are a lot of factors involved. A recent Tampa Bay Times article summarizes the various points of view.

Obviously, nothing will happen to expand Coachman Park until the Harborview and its “greyfield” parking lot are removed. It goes without saying that the demolition is the first step to any observable progress on the bluff and waterfront. So where do we stand?

Not If But When

Harborview greyfieldThe City Council has publicly stated numerous times that the Harborview will come down. They have no intention of re-purposing it. The building itself has some major problems that are cost-prohibitive to fix. In any case, there seems to be unanimous agreement that the Harborview is a blight on downtown, and funds have been set aside for its demolition.

Leases

There are currently two active leases in the Harborview. One is with the Clearwater Marine Aquarium (CMA). It is an ongoing month-to-month lease that requires a six-month advance notice of termination by the City. CMA pays $3,750 per month.

The second lease is with a group representing the Opal Sands Resort on Clearwater Beach (opening February 2016). They occupy the bottom floor for the purpose of staging mock-up designs of hotel rooms and common areas. The lease runs until January 31, 2016 with an option for a single 3-month extension until April 30. They pay $3,831 per month.

CMA Plans

A CMA official told us that they are proceeding under the assumption that in 12 to 18 months the City will likely ask them to vacate the Harborview. (The City has not officially given them notice nor has the City decided on a timeline.)

CMA is currently amid a $2 million expansion in Island Estates, with a larger expansion to follow. The focus is on a new theater, education center, dolphin pools, ticket office and gift shop.

Dolphin Tale AdventureAs for the Dolphin Tale Adventure exhibits that are currently in the Harborview, CMA is considering options. They have not ruled out a downtown presence, though it would be a much smaller footprint than their original plans for the City Hall property. They are open to ideas and possibilities for the exhibits, storage or fulfillment center (or all of the above). If they do not find a suitable location downtown, they will move it to Island Estates. Parking would be an issue, however, because dolphin pools are planned on land where some of their parking currently exists. Therefore they would have to acquire more property and consider building their own parking garage.

City Plans

The City Council has not taken an official position on a recommendation for the use of the Harborview property once demolished. Some council members and city officials have stated or implied that they are in favor of developing the entire bluff. Others would like to see at least a portion left open to provide a vista to the waterfront. In either case, voter approval is required via a referendum. The Council is launching a master planning process to come up with viable ideas for the bluff, park and waterfront, and Clearwater residents will play an active roll.

At least two city officials have publicly stated that they don’t want the Harborview torn down until there is a decision on exactly what will be done with the property. They are concerned that once people see a beautiful open view to the water, they won’t want to vote for development of the entire bluff.

Football fieldWe find this point of view to be a little disturbing. We’d like to think that voters can be trusted to make the right decision when they see all the options. And it’s almost impossible to visualize the options with the monolithic Harborview standing in the way. Creativity is at its best when it starts with a blank canvas.

The wisest move, in our opinion, is to open up the playing field so that everyone can see the game, as soon as reasonably possible in the latter part of 2016.