There were at least 65 people at our downtown neighborhood meeting on March 18, and almost certainly more. (Precise counting was difficult because we overflowed into adjoining rooms.)
Heartfelt thanks to all who attended! Word is already spreading in City offices about the size and enthusiasm of our group.
Here are the highlights:
New Downtown Plan
The meeting started out with a presentation by the City’s Director of Planning & Development, Michael Delk and two of his team (Gina and Mark). Michael informed us that the creation of a new Downtown Plan is underway. It won’t happen overnight, though. It’s a long project, perhaps 18 months. They’ll be asking for our ideas and input as they get deeper into the process. In the meantime, we can look at the current (2004) Downtown Redevelopment Plan (link) to see the kinds of things they’ll be reviewing.
One comment in particular was music to our ears. When asked how far the City is willing to go in making changes, Michael responded: “Everything is on the table!” Sounds like the City won’t be holding anything back.
The City’s Public Information Coordinator, Anna Gurney, cheerfully told us about the annual Clearwater Neighborhood Day on Saturday, April 25. We can host a gathering in our own downtown neighborhood, and there are multiple options available to us: library (either indoors or on the rear patio), the roof of the Capitol Theatre, or the parking lot of City Hall. We’re eligible for a $250 grant from the City to buy refreshments, etc.
Just about everyone at the meeting seemed interested in the idea but we need one or two people to be the coordinators. You can read all about it here. PLEASE volunteer if you’re able, otherwise it won’t happen and that would be a shame. Contact jack[at]downtownneighborhood.net or 727-461-0193.
Association President Jack Mortimer gave an update about CMA’s downtown project. Here are some of the main points:
CMA hopes to make its decision by June 30 as to whether to go ahead or pull back. They don’t want to hold up overall downtown planning any longer than is necessary. Right now they’re working hard on fundraising, particularly in courting large benefactors (i.e. to the tune of millions of dollars). It’s a challenge in today’s financial climate but anything is possible.
CMA’s goal to receive annual bed tax funds hit a roadblock because the County and the Tourist Development Council have suspended the application process until next fiscal year. Reportedly the council is divided on whether to limit the use of bed tax dollars by capital projects such as an aquarium. Some members prefer that available funds are used primarily (or even exclusively) for things like tourism promotion and beach re-nourishment. So they decided to shelve the discussion indefinitely.
According to the Memorandum of Understanding that was published prior to the Nov ’13 referendum, a lease has to be agreed upon by the City and CMA by June 2015. This is already being worked on, but it’s extremely unlikely that it will actually be executed until much further down the road, if ever. Agreeing on the terms of the lease does not obligate CMA to move forward. They can legally bow out if they don’t have the necessary financing, which the MOU states must be in place by August 2016.
Island Estates is, and has been all along, the fallback position. In fact, a $2.3 million expansion is currently underway, with updates to the movie set, a new walkway, a pelican exhibit, and a new retail & food service area. The Island Estates location is obviously a practical option for further expansion, and knowledgeable members of our Association feel that this is the most likely outcome. But it’s mere guesswork at this stage. We’ll have a much clearer picture in three months.
CMA has no plans to leave the Harborview anytime soon. If they decide to go forward with the downtown project, they will remain in the Harborview until well after the grand opening of a new downtown aquarium (years away). If they decide to abandon the project, they have a minimum of six months before they have to vacate the Harborview, but that will surely be negotiable.
Last month the City leased the Harborview’s empty bottom level to the Opal Sands Resort, which is under construction on the beach. Hotel designers will use it to model and tweak room designs. The lease is for one year plus a three-month option. The City has the right to terminate with 60 days notice if there is a better public use.
Someday this “Berlin Wall” will be torn down. For now, all we can do is dream!
Urban Land Institute Study
The City’s analysis of ULI’s recommendations and potential implementation is well underway and the City Council is preparing to host open forums to solicit public feedback. Needless to say, we’ll be squarely in the mix. More news to come! In the meantime, please get familiar with the study. It’s great reading. You can find more information here.
Our Next Meeting
The group voted to hold our next meeting in May, after we’ve had a chance to learn more about the ULI Study Implementation process and progress. In the May meeting, we will brainstorm our priorities, complaints, and recommendations. More details to come!