Downtown Association wins award

Our association was named a winner of the Neighborhood Spirit Awards in the 2018 Clearwater Neighborhoods Conference for our work in helping to drive the Imagine Clearwater project. We have gained quite a reputation in the city for our passion and engagement!

The award was presented by Mayor Cretekos along with City Council members Jonson, Hamilton and Cundiff.

New director of the CRA

The Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) has hired new director Amanda Thompson to replace the departed Seth Taylor.

The CRA is is a taxing district established by the City to carry out redevelopment activities in the downtown and east gateway areas. It’s funded by a “TIF” (Tax Increment Financing), which is a special additional tax paid by property owners within the CRA boundaries (downtown and east gateway). The funds can only be used for redevelopment projects and programs within the area.

The CRA board is composed of the five City Council members. The director of the CRA is the primary person who carries out the mission of the CRA.

Amanda has a lot of experience helping to drive Decatur’s downtown revival as well as multiple major arts initiatives. More information about her can be found in this Tampa Bay Times article.

Amanda’s arrival is timely in light of the pending launch of Imagine Clearwater’s design phase. She is a big believer in deep community engagement, and we look forward to inviting her to address our Association once she’s had a chance to get oriented.

The design phase: a 3-month project

The Imagine Clearwater master plan was created last year and approved by the public in a landslide referendum. It was a major hurdle. Now it’s time for the next stage: designing all the details.

The City is contracting with Stantec, a major design and engineering firm of 22,000 people in 400 locations around the world. The fee for the contract is $834,238. The work will involve eight primary staff and subconsultants over the course of three months (once the City gives the official go-ahead, which should be soon).

The project includes all the designs necessary to complete Phase 1 and Phase 2 of Imagine Clearwater.

There’s a lot to take into account, including traffic, parking, surveying, mapping, easements, demolition, architecture, drainage, wastewater, power, gas, cable, landscaping, tree preservation, art works, playground, lighting, irrigation, water features, restrooms, walkways, marina office, and more.

Here is the official document that shows the scope of the design project: Stantec work order 1-23-18.

Until this design work is completed, the City can’t provide an estimate of when the first shovel (or wrecking ball) will hit the ground or how much everything will cost. The scope of Imagine Clearwater is too vast to make guesses at this point.

So, for now, we can just sit back and wait for the results. Stantec commits to hold regularly scheduled meetings with interested parties and stakeholders during the process, and it stands to reason we will be included. We’ll be watching all of this with great interest.

The future of the Coachman bluff

Folks have been asking us what will happen to the Coachman bluff, which currently contains the Harborview, the library and the parking lot in between.

The library will of course remain where it is. The city is able to lease portions of the library for amenities that may include a café or restaurant, galleries, special events, maker spaces and other uses. For example, options are being considered for the underutilized rooftop terrace.

But what about the rest of the bluff?

Click to enlarge

There are two things that everyone agrees on: 1) the Harborview will definitely be torn down, and 2) the corner of Cleveland and Osceola will become an open plaza. Yes! There will finally be an open view to the waterfront rather than the Harborview eyesore.

So when will the Harborview be torn down? We’ll know more in May. An engineering firm has been contracted by the City to determine exactly how the master plan can physically proceed. There are many things to research and consider, such as underground utilities, environmental impacts, costs, etc. It will take several months to get to the point where demolition and ground-breaking can be designed and scheduled. But all signs point to the Harborview being demolished sometime this year.

When the Harborview is gone, what will take it’s place? Multiple things. Above is a rendering that identifies the key components on the bluff as proposed in the Imagine Clearwater Master Plan. Currently, the Harborview has an enormous footprint. When it’s gone, there will be room for a Civic Gateway Plaza, a shade pavilion for small events, a fountain, splash pad, grand staircase, bluff walk, a lower plaza and landscaping.

All of these features are allowed because they were overwhelmingly approved by voters in the referendum last November.

However, you’ll notice in the photo that there is a building to the right of the open plaza. This proposed building, approximately the height of the library, would be a mixed-use project (a combination of commercial shops and residential units and/or boutique hotel). It is part of the Imagine Clearwater Master Plan that was crafted with the assistance of  a diverse community stakeholder committee and numerous public workshops.

But — and it’s a big but — this building (or any building on the bluff) has not been approved by voters. It will require a future referendum, and it is sure to be controversial. Some people are advocating for development on this parcel. Others want the bluff to remain open and natural. In either case, it is prime property, and the voters will have the final say.

It should be mentioned that a primary reason given for development on this portion of the bluff is to help fund the rest of the Imagine Clearwater project. The project will cost a lot of money (up to $55 million), and it might not be feasible to raise this much cash without making some compromises, such as allowing a developer to build something on the bluff. There are also potential benefits to having commercial venues (restaurants, wine bar, shops, etc.) in easy view and reach of boaters, ferry riders and concert-goers to help draw them into downtown. And vice versa, to provide patrons with an exceptional “eyes on the park and waterfront” experience.

It should also be mentioned that there is a lot of unused land across the street. Many people maintain that this is a far preferable site to develop rather than building something on the bluff. But this land is owned by private citizens and is not under the City’s control. On the bright side, the owners are known to be real estate developers.

At some point, the City will evaluate possible development options after gauging interest among developers and researching successful projects in other cities around the country. If the City determines that the bluff parcel should be developed, it will propose it to the voters in a referendum, likely in 2019. Until then, it’s just speculation as to what the City will propose (if anything). In the meantime, we can share our individual thoughts with the City Council!

Referendum passes overwhelmingly!

On November 7, the voting public made an emphatic statement about the value and importance of downtown Clearwater. The referendum to allow Imagine Clearwater to move forward passed by a mile, 76% to 24%.

Downtown’s revitalization is clearly an indispensable factor in the future of our city! Read all about it in this Tampa Bay Times story.

Without a doubt, the referendum was the critical hurdle for Imagine Clearwater. The project is now officially on the launching pad. The public has spoken.

True, there is still the matter of legislative approval to amend a 1925 law that restricts certain activities along a portion of the waterfront, but this is a mere formality at this point. The city can now proceed with the engineering phase to design and guide the implementation of the Imagine Clearwater Master Plan. More details to come as the city begins the process.

Cheers!

Hope for downtown’s biggest eyesore

We’ve heard some very welcome news.The long-stalled Strand building project at 1100 Cleveland has apparently been resurrected. The owners have received a $22 million loan to complete the development after sitting untouched for years.

Not only will this remove downtown’s biggest visual blight (well, other than the Harborview and its “gray field”), it will add another 132 apartments to our downtown neighborhood.

In our view, apartments are what we need the most right now. Apartments have full-time residents. Condos, on the other hand, are often second homes. For example, in Water’s Edge, only half are full-time residents. Another advantage to apartments-dwellers in urban cores is that they tend to skew younger, leading to more demand for dining and nightlife. And that’s what leads to a vibrant downtown!

Tampa Bay Times recommends Yes vote on waterfront referendum

The Tampa Bay times published on October 5th: “The November referendum allows modest improvements to expand and enhance green space along the waterfront. It enables the Imagine Clearwater plan to keep moving forward, and it is essential to the revitalization of the entire downtown. On the Clearwater referendum question on improvements to the downtown waterfront, the Tampa Bay Times recommends voting Yes.”

A Yes vote is also endorsed by the Downtown Neighborhood Association, the Clearwater Neighborhoods Coalition, Downtown Partnership, Downtown Merchants Association, Regional Chamber of Commerce, and the Imagine Clearwater Stakeholder Committee, just to name a few.

If you are unfamiliar with the details and background of the referendum, the City published an overview, including what a yes vote will permit and what a no vote will prevent. Vote- by-mail ballots are still available through November 1 if you prefer to vote from the comfort of home!

Harborview news!

The Town Hall meeting on September 20 at the library provided a good overview of the Imagine Clearwater master plan and meaning of the upcoming referendum. There was some blockbuster news about the Harborview as well.

Frank Dame from the Clearwater Marine Aquarium announced that CMA has already ceased operations in the Harborview! It is currently being used as a temporary warehouse and is no longer open to the public.

CMA is ready to vacate at any time with only 30 days notice from the city. Frank told everyone that CMA believes in Imagine Clearwater and does not want to stand in its way.

If the referendum passes on November 7, things will start moving fast. An engineering firm will begin a four-month analysis in January to determine exactly how the master plan can physically proceed. There are many things to research and consider, such as underground utilities, environmental impacts, costs, etc.

The city’s goal is that Phase 1 of the master plan (i.e. the “Coachman Park parcel that includes the Harborview and lower parking area but not most of the bluff) is completed within two years. Naturally this will depend on funding, which will be an active topic of conversation once the engineering report is in hand and the scope and projected costs of the project have been determined.

Right now the focus is on the referendum. If it fails, the Imagine Clearwater plans and hopes are out the window because the current city charter does not allow anything in the parcel other than grass, basically. In his opening remarks, Mayor Cretekos referred to Imagine Clearwater as potentially being “our second neighborhood.” He added that the referendum does not commit the city to anything; it just allows for the basic things that public spaces need.

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 clear that if the voters reject the proposal, the magnificent plans for the downtown park and waterfront are stopped in their tracks because none of the features listed above are allowed under the current charter restrictions. 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.