Forty-five years ago, there was an article in a local Clearwater newspaper titled How to Revive Downtown. In other words, this is not a new problem.
So what’s to blame? The answer lies back in the 60’s. The main culprit was Sunshine Mall (it drew a stunning 60,000 people to its opening!) followed a few years later by Clearwater Mall and Countryside Mall. And downtown was never the same.
Pointing fingers about downtown’s demise leads to nowhere. Let’s face it, downtown Clearwater has been in a sad state for decades. But things are finally changing. Today’s picture is one of progress, with the first significant advances in nearly 50 years.
Sure there is still a long way to go. Revival doesn’t happen overnight, and there have been some false starts. But let’s give credit where credit is due. Here are just a few of the signs that things are different this time around.
We have to start with the biggest one of all: the Imagine Clearwater project, a $55 million revitalization of the waterfront, Coachman Park and bluff. After several years of study and preparation, it was approved by voters in November 2017. And now it’s underway!
The Capitol Theatre has been a huge success after its spectacular expansion and renovation, with a variety of shows nearly nightly.
New restaurants are popping up regularly, and Clear Sky has shown without a doubt that a well-run restaurant not only can survive but thrive.
The streetscape project updated downtown considerably.
The marina brings elegance and flair to the waterfront.
The Harborview will soon be torn down, improving the vista considerably. It’s fun to imagine what downtown will look like without its ‘Berlin Wall’.
Clearwater’s largest building, the impressive new Scientology Flag Building on Fort Harrison, is bringing even more people downtown.
The Nolen Apartments are open with over 250 apartments, as is the SkyView condo building across the street from the Capitol Theatre.
People are coming downtown in numbers not imagined just five years ago. Each Blast Friday event seems to break previous attendance records and there is barely room to move. Events such as Jazz Holiday, Sea-Blues Festival, Super Boat Championship, Box Car Rally, Winter Wonderland, and Miracle on Cleveland Street keep downtown hopping throughout the year.
So the signs are there. Downtown’s revival is well underway.
Several groups are doing everything they can to speed up the process: Downtown Development Board; Downtown Partnership; Chamber of Commerce; and, of course, our Downtown Neighborhood Association. These groups need help and support, no matter how small.
It’s easy to be part of the solution. Consider doing something that helps the groups that are making a difference. But at the very least, make it a priority to eat, shop and play downtown.
It’s no surprise that other cities drool at the opportunities that Clearwater has within its grasp, particularly the good fortune of having city-owned land on the waterfront and bluff that provides a blank canvas for the Imagine Clearwater project. Very, very few cities in the nation can boast of such possibilities.
Downtown’s future looks bright! And this time it looks like it’s for real.