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?

City actively seeking developers for downtown

DevelopmentThe Urban Land Institute advised the City to more aggressively market available development parcels in Downtown and the East Gateway. The Department of Economic Development & Housing  is working hard on it and has created a very attractive Real Estate Marketing Brochure. Nice job!

It’s very interesting reading, particularly the map that identifies six prime parcels.

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!

Neighborhoods

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.

Downtown’s worst eyesore – on its way out?

StrandThe City is taking firm action with the repulsive Strand “building” at 1100 Cleveland Street. The Strand had been previously labeled an abandoned building and the owner has been fined accordingly. But now the City has gone a step further and labeled it an unsafe structure.

If the owner doesn’t bring it up to compliance (at no small cost), the City can proceed with demolition. It will not be allowed to remain in its current state. The City is dead serious about this and is already soliciting demolition estimates. To which we say… Hooray!

Click here to read an informative article about it in the Tampa Bay Times.

BUILDING A SENSE OF HOMETOWN: Our recommendations for revitalizing downtown

Meeting 5-11-15 listOn May 11 we held a milestone meeting of the Downtown Neighborhood Association to officially establish our priorities and recommendations for the implementation of the Urban Land Institute (ULI) study.

It was another overflow crowd. More than 60 people participated; 48 were downtown residents and the rest were from other neighborhoods.

Meeting 5-11-15 attendees

City Council member Bill Jonson was there to answer questions. Officers of the Clearwater Neighborhoods Coalition were in attendance and actively participated in the discussion. An officer of the Downtown Development Board was also there, as was an officer of the Downtown Partnership.

The participants were passionate about building a sense of hometown for all Clearwater residents and discussed ways to make the most of our beautiful waterfront and bluff, making downtown a better place to live, work and play.

The brainstorming was lively, spirited and fun, with plenty of cheering and applause. It became clear that we value three strategic priorities above all others, reaching a unanimous consensus.

  1. A lack of urgency is our biggest fear. As a city we want to energize and engage stakeholders fast. The best way to do this is by showing commitment and resolve. Speeding up the process is our strongest recommendation. Priority should be given to the creation of a dateline with accountability assigned to each phase.
  2. Rapidly initiate the process for developing a comprehensive Coachman Park master plan, including a solid date for the Harborview demolition. The master plan should encompass the park, bluff, waterfront, marina, parking and potential uses of the City Hall property.
  3. Accelerate efforts to update the downtown redevelopment plan by evaluating business-friendly enhancements to codes, regulations, parking and traffic. Attracting businesses, retailers and restaurants is critical to downtown’s future.

With these priorities in mind, we offer our support and encouragement to the City and all downtown stakeholder groups.

In addition, we will formally request that the City Council add a representative of the Clearwater Neighborhoods Coalition to the Advisory Committee for the ULI Implementation. Residents should have a seat at the table per the ULI report.

Thank you to all who participated in the meeting. We accomplished what we set out to do and had fun doing it. We have quite a group!

Carl Schrader, President of the Clearwater Neighborhoods Coalition, perhaps said it best:

“It was a great meeting, with a lot of enthusiasm and high energy. It showed that residents are willing to participate as long as they feel their thoughts and ideas are taken into account.”

Church of Scientology announces major project

Plans have been announced for the construction of L.Ron Hubbard Hall, an auditorium that will seat thousands. It will be located on Fort Harrison Street next to the Flag Building, fronted by L. Ron Hubbard Park.

The auditorium may eventually have some availability for public use such as banquets, benefits and conferences, but it is intended primarily for Church functions.

We’ve been told that fundraising is underway but it’s still too early to set a target date. In the meantime, the Church is moving quickly on other projects along Fort Harrison Street in the first few blocks north of Cleveland.

We’ve got to hand it to them. While others are talking about investing in downtown, they are really doing it.

The following photos are courtesy of www.scientology.org. Here is the link to the article about the occasion of the announcement. (Click on photos to enlarge.)

LRH hall 1

 

LRH hall 2

 

LRH hall 3