March meeting recap – lots of news

Standing room onlyThere 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.

Poker chipsOne 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.

Neighborhood Day

DNA logoThe 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] or 727-461-0193.

CMA Update

CMA downtown - revampedAssociation 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.

Harborview Update

Imploding buildingCMA 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

ULI logoThe 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!

Thanks for joining us

Please participate in this blog!

DiscussionYou can be notified by email of each new post on this blog by choosing the SUBSCRIBE option.

You can also publicly comment on individual posts using the REPLY option. (Previously, this option wasn’t being provided because the proposed CMA project was, well, too darned contentious.)

Comments go through a “moderator check” step before appearing on the website, so there will be a delay. But we encourage you to participate! All we ask is that you keep things civil. No bashing or name-calling or feuds, please. Naturally, any comments that are discriminatory or mean-spirited will be rejected. Fortunately, downtown residents are class acts!

Urban Land Institute study offers hope for downtown

Stay informedLast year the City commissioned a study from the prestigious Urban Land Institute (ULI) for $125,000. ULI takes on just a few such cases each year, but they were particularly interested in Clearwater’s downtown. They consider it to be the epitome of “untapped potential”.

The study was admirably impartial. lt’s hard to argue with its observations and recommendations, which is why it’s being taken so seriously by so many people. It can be the rallying point that downtown so badly needs.

If you haven’t yet read the final report (September 2014) or viewed the video of the fascinating preliminary presentation (June 2014), it’s well worth the effort.

30 minutesPRESENTATION VIDEO (link) It’s fascinating to watch. It starts with an apology to those it is about to offend, and they don’t pull any punches. The video is nearly two hours long but watch the first 30 minutes no matter what.

FINAL REPORT (link) It’s 39 pages but it doesn’t take long to look through it. TheVision section is particularly important.

Implementing the strategies is going to be an ongoing process. If we want our voices to be heard and taken seriously, we’ll need to be involved every step of the way. Therefore it behooves us to be knowledgeable about the study and its recommendations and cautions. Even if you’ve read or viewed the information before, it’s worth doing it again. Enjoy!

New ferry service to Clearwater Beach

FerryA private company plans to begin offering ferry service between downtown and Clearwater Beach. At first, the service will be open only to employees of beach businesses (who have a heck of a time getting to work and finding parking). Later it will be open to the public as they add more boats. More information can be found on

We’ll have to wait and see if this this actually becomes a viable business, but we’re rooting for it to succeed. Anything that helps connect downtown to the beach more efficiently is a good thing!

Our neighborhood is growing fast

Downtown lifeThere’s a national trend of people moving into walkable city centers, and downtown Clearwater is no exception.

Our number of residences has doubled in the past five years, and it will nearly double again in the next two years when we exceed 800 residential units, making it one of the largest and fastest-growing neighborhoods in Clearwater!

  • Water’s Edge – 153
  • Station Square – 126
  • 100 Pierce – 102
  • 500 N. Osceola – 93
  • Sky View – 52 (under construction)
  • Nolen Apartments – 257 (under construction)
  • Misc – approximately 30
  • TOTAL: 813

Getting things rolling again

We're back!The Downtown Neighborhood Association and its website haven’t been very visible in the past year or so because we were waiting to see what CMA would do. But here it is 15 months later and there is still no definitive news. So it’s time to move forward regardless.

Here’s the bottom line. Downtown’s revitalization depends on many factors, not just one or two. Things are starting to move, driven by last summer’s superb study by the Urban Land Institute. Its recommendations offer much-needed hope and energy. So let’s band together and drive some change! (More news to come!)

A new chapter for downtown?

Peace 2[Note: This was originally posted in November 2013. As of March 8, 2015, there has been no definitive news as to CMA’s plans and resources.]

Thank goodness the debate is over. The issue has finally been settled. The referendum passed with 55% of 17,000 votes cast.

Though the vote was relatively close, it’s clear that CMA’s proposal is favored throughout the city. It won in all but four precincts.

The two downtown precincts (they stretch a bit further out than downtown), were carried by CMA, though it was extremely close – 53% and 51% respectively.

The public has spoken, and it’s time for all of us to support the new direction for downtown. The voters have given CMA the opportunity to show what it can do. CMA thinks big, and this project has the potential to be a game-changer for downtown.

For CMA, their work is just beginning. Fundraising in this economy is a major challenge. Government grants are in short supply. The battle for bed tax dollars will be a major prizefight. But if anyone can pull this off, it’s CMA.

So they have our support in turning this into the best possible outcome for downtown and Clearwater as a whole.

It is vital that each of us stay involved and up to speed during the entire planning process. Not as opponents but as collaborators. Both CMA and the City have committed to us that our voices will be heard. During the past six months, we have gotten to know CMA executive Frank Dame extremely well. He’s always been open and honest with us, and he has already shown that he is sensitive to the needs and concerns of local residents.

We’re in this together. So we urge that there are no hard feelings on either side. The debate was hard fought and even testy at times, but we all have one thing in common: we want the best for downtown.

Here’s to our future!

CMA seeks public funds for downtown aquarium

Puzzle dollarsCMA’s ambitious proposal to build a downtown aquarium requires up to $160.5 million in funding. The puzzle contains multiple pieces, and each piece is critical:

  • Private donors: $25 – 55 M
  • Corporate: $10 – 30 M
  • Government: $35 – 60 M
  • Grants: $5 – 10 M
  • Banks:  $60 – 80 M
  • Current facility revenue: $15 – 20 M

Total  needed: $160.5 million.

CMA is confident they can raise the necessary funds. Others have said that it’s a herculean task in the face of today’s economic realities.

Last week Ruth Eckerd laid off 13 staff members. CEO Zev Buffman explained: “Just as all non-profit performing arts organizations around the country, we rely heavily on the kindness of private and corporate donations, as well as strong state and federal funding. These have all diminished as never before.” (Clearwater Patch, 9/17/13)

Given this state of affairs, local funding will be a primary focus of CMA’s funding plans. The following is a recap of the types of public funds that CMA will be seeking if the referendum passes.

But first, let’s clear up a couple of false rumors.

RumorsOne rumor is that the City could end up on the hook for tens of millions of dollars if CMA defaults on its bank loans. This is not true. The City owns the land and the banks will own the building. CMA and the banks assume all the financial risk. In the event of default, any financial participation by the City would be at its own discretion.

Another false rumor is that CMA will not ask for any taxpayer money. Government funds ARE taxpayer’s money, and CMA expects government funding to provide a significant portion of the $160 million.

We can’t comment on the availability of federal and state funding because we aren’t fully familiar with the options, which might include various grants and tax credits. But Zev Buffman points out what we already know – these funds are disappearing fast. Sequestration has been a steamroller from which federal funding, and indirectly state funding, might never quite recover.

Funding thermometerAs for private and corporate donations, any non-profit organization can attest to the challenge of fundraising in today’s economic climate. CMA hopes to raise $35 to 85 million from corporations and private donors.

With all this in mind, CMA is actively targeting local public funding sources. There’s not a long list of possibilities. The following are the options that CMA is considering and not considering. Continue reading

Condo plans gel for former AmSouth building

Skyview2The plans for The SkyView condominium project are moving along rapidly.

The old AmSouth building, directly across the street from the Harborview Center, is being converted into 51 condos with a modern flair. The current (ugly) exterior will undergo a stunning transformation.

Check out their website to see floor plans, amenities, etc. Be sure to watch the video!

The SkyView Condominiums

Visit a downtown treasure

Peace Memorial exterior 2The pink Peace Memorial Presbyterian Church on Fort Harrison Avenue has been a downtown icon for 90 years.

We met with its new pastor, Reverend Bob Scott, to discuss not only his Church but also his thoughts about downtown in general, including his views on the CMA proposal and what it’s like to be next door to the sizeable facilities of the Church of Scientology.


Peace Memorial has a long and rich history. It started out in 1891 as the “Little White Church”. After World War I, an army chaplain took over the Church. He had a vision of building a memorial to peace. Construction soon began on the big pink Church and it was completed in 1922. The dedication ceremony was led by William Jennings Bryan.

Pastor Bob

Pastor Bob

Pastor Bob

Reverend Bob Scott prefers to be known as “Pastor Bob”. He arrived here in March of this year after serving in Palatka, Florida (30 miles southwest of St. Augustine). His wife and daughter joined him in June.


The Church has 250 primary members along with many unofficial members. Every Sunday they pray for peace. Pastor Bob says: “That’s what we are. The people of peace.”


Pastor Bob loves downtown. He told us: “It’s such a beautiful place. I walk around the area almost every day. I’ve tried to eat my way through downtown! In Palatka, I was a member of the Main Street organization, and our goal was to make downtown a place where locals and residents want to go. Hopefully this will become a destination place for the wider area. Our Church wants to be a partner and participant in what’s going on here. We like seeing life and vibrancy downtown.” Continue reading