Town Hall meeting on September 20. Please attend!

A moment of truth is soon arriving: Imagine Clearwater’s fate lies in the hands of voters on November 7.

A Town Hall is scheduled for Wednesday, September 20, at 7:00 pm at the Main Library. Brian Aungst, Jr. will brief us and answer questions about the referendum and the future of Imagine Clearwater. Brian is a wealth of information and this is a can’t-miss opportunity.

Please, please, please come. We can’t overstate the importance of the next two months in realizing our dreams for the downtown waterfront and park.

The meeting is open to the public, not just the Downtown Neighborhood Association.

Hope to see you there!

Voter referendum on November 7

Here is what Clearwater voters will be determining on November 7:

REFERENDUM: Shall City Charter Section 2.01(d)(6) be amended as provided in Ordinance 9063-17 to allow construction and maintenance of certain improvements including playgrounds, water features, artwork, a boathouse, Marina office, restrooms, surface parking, roadways, plazas, sidewalks, trails, elevated walkways, boardwalks, benches, picnic tables, water fountains, litter receptacles and similar amenities, to support active and passive uses of the city owned Downtown Waterfront, generally bounded by Pierce St., Drew St., the Bluff and the water.

It’s pretty clear that if the voters reject the proposal, the magnificent plans for the downtown park and waterfront are stopped in their tracks. Here is a link to the plans: Imagine Clearwater

Please register and vote if you’re eligible as a U.S. citizen and Clearwater resident!

The expected voting schedule:

  • Ballots mailed to military & overseas voters on September 22.
  • Ballots mailed to domestic voters on October 3.
  • Early voting from October 28 to November 5.
  • Election Day is November 7.

Last chance to register to vote is October 10. You can request a mail ballot here.

Master Plan accepted unanimously!

Clearwater has a brand new, modern, comprehensive Master Plan for the downtown waterfront and bluff! On February 2, the Imagine Clearwater Stakeholder Committee unanimously endorsed the Plan, and a few hour later the City Council accepted it unanimously.

This news is worth celebrating! It’s definitely a milestone for Clearwater. In this day and age, no city can be considered complete without a vibrant downtown core. A successful and attractive downtown is and always will be essential to a sense of a hometown identity. It’s happening all over the country, including our neighbors (some might even say competitors), St. Pete and Tampa. Now we won’t be left behind.

Kudos to everyone who pushed, prodded and worked on this all along the way. It was years in the making. But this is only the beginning. The next step is for the City to initiate the implementation planning process, which will heavily involve both the public and private sectors along with citizen stakeholder groups. We’ll keep you well-informed here on this site.

Master Plan to be presented to the City Council

The six-month Imagine Clearwater waterfront master planning process, led by HR&A Consultants, is about to conclude with a presentation of the plan to the City Council on Thursday, February 2 at 6pm at City Hall. Please be there if you can, not only to show the Council that residents really care about this project but also to voice your support (or disagreement if you are so inclined).

You can view an advance copy by clicking on “THE PLAN” on the right. It’s a comprehensive and creative document, well worth the time to read. (It’s a large file and may take a bit of time to open.)

In our opinion, HR&A and their associates did a very commendable job capturing and incorporating the most frequently-voiced ideas, suggestions and priorities from the seven community workshops a few months back. Several of us attended every workshop and we were struck by the broad agreement among the participants across the city. The priorities voiced in the Countryside workshop were nearly identical to those in the Downtown workshop.

Once the plan is presented to the Council by HR&A, the city staff will ask the council to accept the proposed master plan and to schedule a workshop to begin the implementation process. We are assured that the public will be given opportunities to provide input throughout.

This is a major milestone for Clearwater. The consultants rightly refer to it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Let’s make the most of it!

Editorial: Trust the process

editorialDear Mayor, City Council and City Leaders,

I was inspired by the book American Icon about Alan Mullaly, considered by many to have been the greatest CEO in American history after resurrecting both Boeing and Ford from ruin. His mantra was “Trust the process”, and he never wavered from it.

On a very much smaller scale, our downtown and waterfront have been in need of resurrection for half a century. A variety of approaches have been attempted. Referendums have come and gone. Ambitious plans have come to naught.

Is this downtown’s last chance for greatness? Many of us feel that we are at a crossroads that is in serious danger of becoming a dead end.

You wisely came up with a process that had never really been fully attempted: engaging the community as a whole in creating downtown’s future — Imagine Clearwater. The goal is to end up with a master plan that makes a successful referendum a foregone conclusion because it enjoys such broad support in the community.

You went about this brilliantly. You started with a blank slate. You looked at national trends. You hired top-notch consultants. You created a diverse stakeholder committee. And you engaged in an unprecedented level of community input. The results are just as you intended. You have a stunning master plan that was instantly embraced and applauded by a wide range of citizens and stakeholders, many of whom had never before seen eye to eye.

For the first time ever, a vision — and a plan — for downtown’s future is getting broad agreement within the community. Please don’t waver now. Trust the process. It’s working.

Sincerely,

Jack Mortimer, President, Downtown Neighborhood Association

Master Plan Issues – Part 3 – Parking

[Note: This website applauds the overall master plan. This post is an attempt to predict and discuss a possible area of concern that may arise.]

When people view the master plan, invariably the first question is: Where’s the parking?

harborview-greyfield-2The master plan dispenses with the massive “greyfield” parking lot and transforms it into an open green space and concert venue. It’s a loss of a lot of parking spaces, but there’s no need for panic. The plan calls for 200 parking spaces in the waterfront area and it points out there are 4,000 public parking spaces within a short walk. And by short walk is meant just a few blocks, closer than at the St. Pete waterfront.

strollingAnd there’s something to be said for compelling people to walk through downtown. That’s one of the main incentives for investing in the waterfront in the first place – to revive and rejuvenate downtown Clearwater.

driverless-shuttleThere’s another reason for not including parking areas in the priceless waterfront: the whole nature of transportation is about to change. Driverless cars and shuttles will change the game.

Carnegie Mellon is considered the birthplace of autonomous vehicle technology, and last week the director of their Smart Transportation Research Institute stated that it no longer makes sense to place large parking lots and garages in prime locations. Instead, smart planners should create remote parking areas where autonomous vehicles can wait after dropping off their passengers. These parking areas can also be served by continuously-running driverless shuttles.

This game-changer might seem to be distant in the future, but it’s actually not. Automakers and tech companies have invested tens of billions in this technology, and it’s already at a point where autonomous shuttles can operate safely in a defined downtown neighborhood. In a few years they will be commonplace.

driverless-shuttle-2The master plan should ideally provide more areas for drop-off and pick-up and special lanes/areas for autonomous shuttles in the waterfront area. There is plenty of vacant land in and around the downtown area for “remote” parking purposes (and in any case, there are already 4,000 spaces available).

In a way, we should be grateful that this master plan is taking place now rather than five years ago. Back then we wouldn’t have been thinking in terms of autonomous vehicles, and there’s little doubt that valuable waterfront and bluff parcels would have been set aside for parking lots or garages. But now the future of transportation is crystal clear and we can design accordingly.

Master Plan Issues – Part 2 – Event noise and traffic

[Note: This website applauds the overall master plan. This post is an attempt to predict and discuss a possible area of concern that may arise.]

Here is another aspect that will call for some give and take, particularly for some downtown residents. It’s obvious to everyone that downtown needs increased activity and attractions in order to become vibrant and successful. But it’s equally obvious that downtown is also a residential neighborhood. There are currently 300 homes within the scope of the waterfront, which will more than double with the proposed development along the bluff. Downtown will be one of the largest residential neighborhoods in the city.

jazz-holidaySo the positioning of the music venue is an important evaluation, particularly the stage location and the direction it faces. Similarly, the programming goals must be carefully considered. What constitutes a reasonable amount of major concerts and events per year? How much expansion is appropriate in a residential neighborhood? What are acceptable decibel levels?

A disclaimer must be stated here. It would be easy for some readers of this article to assume that downtown residents – particularly in Water’s Edge – have a “not in my back yard” attitude. But this is very far from the truth. Water’s Edge and Pierce 100 folks have been more active and supportive of Imagine Clearwater than any other citizen group by far. Almost one for one, we want a lively and dynamic downtown. The vast majority of us are big fans of Jazz Holiday, Blues Festival and Pierce Street Market, and we would like to see more. But at the same time, it is fair to ask for an approach that supports a reasonable quality of life, both noise-wise and traffic-wise.

win-winThere is no doubt that a solution can be found that is a win-win for everyone involved, and the City will need our input in deciding where and how to draw a line. Please communicate your thoughts and suggestions to City leaders here and/or clicking on the big yellow button on the right of this page.

Master Plan Issues – Part 1 – Development on the bluff

[Note: This website applauds the overall master plan. This post is an attempt to predict and discuss a possible area of concern that may arise.]

give-and-takeIt goes without saying that there will be some compromises to be made in preserving the natural setting of the waterfront and bluff. The reality is that some development will be necessary in order to help fund the rest of it, and the bluff and Osceola streetscape are the best candidates.

The master plan is very creative in preserving the waterfront and lower bluff, and there appears to be no development planned in that specific area (other than a new stage and its associated infrastructure for events).

draft-plan-developmentHowever, there are two zones where the master plan proposes some development. (Click photo to enlarge.)

The first zone is on the current City Hall parking lot. It would likely be a condominium tower similar to Water’s Edge, but it would be set back farther from the water so that it would not block the view of Water’s Edge residents. This is pretty much the same two-tower concept that was originally planned by the Water’s Edge developers before the housing market collapsed.

The second zone is next to the library and it would cover both the upper parking lot that currently sits next to the Harborview and also a portion of the current Harboview building footprint. It would likely be four or five stories tall with shops and restaurants on the bottom floor and residential above. It would be set back far enough from Cleveland Street to allow for a large open plaza (and water view) on the corner.

Most downtown residents will probably accept these two development zones as a reasonable fact of life. In order for downtown to become the vibrant center that we all want, we badly need more residential development. The bluff is by far the most attractive area for investment. If you are opposed, you can let City leaders know here.