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.


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.

Scientology buildings open to the public

Flag public buildings 2It is well known that downtown Clearwater contains the headquarters of the Church of Scientology. Previously, none of its buildings were open to the public except for special events. Now there are 7 buildings open to visitors 7 days a week, 10am to 10pm.

The buildings are located along Fort Harrison between Cleveland and Drew, providing a substantial upgrade to the downtown area. The Church also opened a public park on the corner of Drew and Fort Harrison.

The former Clearwater Bank building contains the Scientology Information Center. A little further along Fort Harrison to the north are a series of newly renovated and remodeled storefronts that contain exhibits for the Church’s social betterment activities, including: human rights, Way to Happiness, drug-free world, crime-free world, volunteer community service, and the exposure of mental health & human rights abuses (this last exhibit is particularly thought-provoking and some might say shocking).

New additions to the list of things to do in downtown Clearwater!

Waterfront park – thinking outside the box in Nashville

Nashville parkThis is inspiring. Not long ago, Nashville’s riverfront park was boring, under-utilized, and pretty much vacant most of the time. Much of it was a massive asphalt slab. (Hmmm… sounds familiar!) The city had a vision and wisely decided to make it the first phase in regenerating and reinvigorating its downtown waterfront.

The way they went about it was especially interesting. They chose to to make it an adventure park rather than just a lot of empty green space, or the other extreme, a commercial development. Link to article.

Phase 1 (Done): A beautiful adventure park that incorporates water features, climbing walls, river overlooks, trails, picnic lawns and other features, turning the park into a new city landmark that attracts both tourists and locals.

Nashville amphitheaterPhase 2 (Underway): An outdoor music pavilion (debuting this month), a new inland recreational waterway, including waterfront restaurants, sports fields, a festival lawn, river walks, bridges, and a boulevard with multi-modal transit options.

Phase 3: Transforming an industrial-like surrounding area into an integrated small business option for entrepreneurs and a simple residential neighborhood.

Phase 4: Ecological restoration to recover natural areas that will remain untouched by tourists and visitors.

We’re envious. This could be our downtown waterfront. Or dare we say… will be?

Milestone for downtown: the master planning process has begun!

Great newsIn last month’s Downtown Neighborhood Association meeting, we identified our top priorities for downtown’s redevelopment: The first is a greater sense of urgency and the second is a new Coachman Park and Bluff master plan.

In the recent meeting of the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA), it was 100% clear that our voices (and those of other downtown stakeholders) have been heard. The board of the CRA (i.e. the City Council) were united in their enthusiasm for moving forward without delay and they were unanimous in their decision to officially launch the Coachman Park & Bluff master planning process!

Filling in gapsThe meeting was full of interesting and useful information about the challenges and opportunities facing downtown today and historically. It filled in some missing pieces of the puzzle to offer a more complete picture of where things stand and how the project is viewed by city leaders. We strongly encourage you to watch the video. It’s long – a little over two hours – but it’s well worth the effort. You can watch the video here.

In the first half of the meeting, Assistant City Manager Rod Irwin and Economic Development & Housing Director Geri Lopez did a great job in laying out the background and framework for downtown’s redevelopment strategy. Next the City Council discussed their issues, concerns and points of view. The City Council members were, in the main, adamant that it’s time to move forward now. They simply did not want to wait any longer. It was music to our ears.

Next they decided on the framework for the master planning process. It is a very clever way to cover all the bases and we applaud it.

  • Select a Master Plan Consultant that is experienced in waterfront locations and robust public engagement.
  • Select a Development Consultant to test market and economic feasibility of options.
  • Appoint a Master Plan Steering Committee to serve as a sounding board and distiller of ideas.

Light bulb ideas

The council assured everyone that the steering committee WILL INCLUDE a resident component. Many of the city council members and city staff are on record in promising that city residents will be engaged and consulted every step of the way.


The theme of the approach is this: Do the planning the correct way by being inclusive and reaching a broad consensus, and the referendum will be a mere formality.

LeonardoWe should point out that there’s still a long way to go and and the heavy lifting has yet to begin. But it’s a definite START and things are in moving in the right direction. Cheers!



Other neighborhoods are joining in. We aren’t alone!


More and more neighborhoods are weighing in on the importance of downtown’s redevelopment for the benefit of the entire city.

We’re receiving feedback and support from around the City. One resident wrote to us:  “The priorities you identified are those that I keep hearing from people outside of downtown. I am annoyed when I hear that Countryside is not interested in local issues. I think the city and council assume too much and don’t make an effort to talk to the east of Clearwater.”

And here is an excerpt from an article in the latest Coachman Ridge neighborhood newsletter that encourages members to make their feelings known to the City Council:

Make Your Downtown a “Hometown”

Although the Clearwater Marine Aquarium won’t be building its new site downtown as previously planned, the topic of downtown redevelopment is far from dead. The city council has appointed a committee to study a recent report from the Urban Land Institute that identifies problems and potential solutions for achieving successful downtown redevelopment. While other communities in Pinellas County have thrived during the last decade, downtown Clearwater has experienced high vacancy rates in its stores and restaurants. As citizens of Clearwater each of us has an opportunity to let our city council and staff know about our vision for turning our downtown into a real “hometown“.

DNA presentation to Downtown Development Board

DDB address 6-2-15

Click on photo to view video.

At the request of the Downtown Development Board (DDB), two of our Association’s board members presented our recommendations during the monthly DDB meeting last week. David Lillesand and Carol Ann Logan did an excellent job conveying our top priorities for downtown’s revitalization:

  1. A greater sense of urgency.
  2. Master plan for Coachman Park, bluff and waterfront.
  3. Accelerate the updating and modernizing of the 10-year-old downtown redevelopment plan.

Although the seven members of the DDB have not yet officially proposed their own recommendations to the City, they seemed very much in tune with ours, as shown during the video of the meeting. Many of the board members were quite outspoken in favor of our point of view. Music to our ears!

We thank Paris Morfopoulos and the board for inviting us. Clearly the DDB is taking to heart the Urban Land Institute’s position that residents must play a central role in implementing a revised downtown redevelopment plan. Cheers! We look forward to working more closely with the DDB in the months and years ahead.