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 2Thank 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

CMA’s potential impact on downtown home values

Home valuesWith more than 500 homes, downtown is among the larger neighborhoods in Clearwater.

Half of downtown’s homes are in Water’s Edge and Pierce 100. Naturally, these homeowners are concerned about the potential impact on their home values if CMA builds a large tourist facility right next door.

Some speculate that home values will drop while others say values will rise.

So we asked two well-regarded and highly experienced commercial appraisers for their thoughts. Both have some familiarity with downtown and the CMA proposal. Both asked to speak off the record because “appraiser” and “unofficial opinion” do not go together.

Surprisingly, both appraisers were nearly identical in their responses. Here are the highlights:

  • Waters EdgeIt is almost impossible to measure something like this. Similar circumstances have to be found, and no two situations are alike. And this is, without a doubt, a particularly unique situation. The cost of the research would be high, certainly five figures, and the likelihood is that nothing would be found to prove things one way or the other.
  • An aquarium brings obvious nuisance factors due to increased traffic, crowds, noise, etc., but appraisers see properties all the time where nuisance factors don’t seem to have a big impact on values.
  • Both appraisers pointed out that when you live downtown, nuisances come with the territory. Downtowns are meant to be central locations where things happen. That’s why people go to a city center and that’s the premise of a downtown. Some people like the lifestyle and some don’t.

Bottom line: Neither appraiser was willing to say this outright but we were able to read between the lines. Building a CMA facility next door probably won’t increase values but it probably won’t lower them either (an exception might be the south side of Water’s Edge). The factors tend to cancel each other out. Some homebuyers will avoid the area like the plague while others will jump at the chance to be in the middle of the action and festivities.

In other words, people like different things. An example is Clearwater Beach. It’s a tourist district, and people buy homes knowing the purpose of the beach. It’s no secret.

Pierce 100But homes in Water’s Edge and Pierce 100 were purchased without knowing that City Hall might be replaced with a tourist attraction designed to attract 2 million visitors per year.

Therefore, we support those residents who are urging the City to do full diligence on researching three areas of concern:

  1. TRAFFIC IMPACT? Will residents be able to get out of their own driveway without having to wait ten minutes? Can downtown’s narrow streets support this level of traffic? What if attendance is more than projected? Less than projected?
  2. ECONOMIC IMPACT? Will CMA patrons actually go into downtown shops and restaurants, or will they just turn around and leave as they do currently at the Harborview? Is this the best use of the land and is the City getting proper value for it?
  3. WILL A MAJOR TOURIST ATTRACTION IN DOWNTOWN ATTRACT LOCALS OR SCARE THEM AWAY? There are many who avoid Clearwater Beach for this very reason, particularly during busy seasons. A city center, in our opinion, should be designed to benefit local taxpayers first.

Answers to these questions will help us make an informed decision when we vote on the referendum.

Building a great downtown

Gail and Bill Jonson

Gail and city councilman Bill Jonson

Gail Hamilton, the driver of Kissimmee’s downtown resurgence, gave an inspiring presentation on July 30 at The Sage. The audience included representatives of the City Council, City staff, Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Development Board, Downtown Partnership, Neighborhoods Coalition, and, of course, a wide range of downtown residents. 60 people in all.

Gail spoke not only about Kissimmee’s successes and lessons learned, but also her observations about downtown Clearwater, including its master plan, Capitol Theatre, event scheduling, Coachman Park, Scientology and more. She sees great potential here.

When Gail started working for the Community Redevelopment Agency in downtown Kissimmee in 2001, she found a virtually empty downtown, particularly on evenings and weekends, and too many vacant storefronts.

Mickey Mouse noFor years, Kissimmee had focused on tourism as the solution to downtown’s woes. But Disney tourists were not coming in droves. In fact, they weren’t coming at all. Even worse, the City was out of step with most residents who didn’t want downtown to become a tourist attraction in the first place.

[Editor’s note: If we feel that downtown Clearwater has inherent factors that are tough to overcome, how would we like to compete with Disney? Yikes. In Kissimmee, Mickey Mouse is commonly referred to as “The Rat”.]

HometownGail started her crusade by attending neighborhood meetings, breaking bread and asking residents what they felt a hometown should be. Her slogan was: “Ask people what they want and tell them how to get there.” Whenever Gail met problems, she invariably found that she hadn’t asked the residents and businesses for their opinions.

Continue reading

Capitol Theatre update

Capitol Theatre rendering 2

Opening December 18

Jeff Hertzog, the director of operations for the Capitol Theatre, addressed the Downtown Development Board on July 31.

Jeff reports that construction is on schedule for a December 18 opening.

The total number of seats is being raised from the previous 450 to 735 (63% increase), which means the Cap can book a higher caliber of acts. There will be the same mix of acts as before: rock, country, classical, comedy, plays, etc., but the quality will be higher than ever.

In the first year, Jeff expects to offer 100 live performances. (This does not include supplementary events such as movies and community rentals.) Within 3 years, he estimates 200 to 250 live events per year.

Applause logoThose of us who live nearby have the pleasure of watching the impressive progress of the construction up close and personal. We applaud Zev Buffman, Jeff Hertzog and the Ruth Eckerd staff for their professionalism. And we applaud the City for their critical support of the project. Without a doubt, The Cap will be the foundation of downtown’s resurgence.

CMA traffic study released

CMA logoThe Clearwater Marine Aquarium commissioned a traffic study for the proposed aquarium site on the City Hall property and the proposed parking garage on the corner of Pierce and Osceola. (Other possible locations of the parking garage are being considered. Link.)

The study’s observations of current traffic patterns were performed between May 8 and May 16 at probable peak hours (weekdays 4 to 6, and Saturday 11-1). In order to estimate the future traffic characteristics for the Aquarium, the study used commonly accepted calculations for movie theaters because of similarity of operations.

TrafficThe study was prepared by Gulf Coast Consulting, a Clearwater-based company specializing in engineering and land development consulting services, including traffic studies. Though CMA commissioned the study, an official assured us that they did not influence the study in any way.

The conclusion of the study states: “Traffic patterns will be relatively minor and disbursed [sic] throughout the day… In summary, the development of the Clearwater Marine Aquarium on Osceola Avenue will not result in unacceptable levels of service.”

In other words, the study concluded that a new aquarium and parking garage will have minimal impact (if any) on traffic congestion downtown.

Continue reading