Without 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
The 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.
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.
As 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.
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.
We 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.