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!

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