The first set of community workshops took place on August 1, 2 and 3. They were key steps to crafting a new master plan for the downtown waterfront, park and bluff. So how did they go? Well, we were pleased. More than pleased.
Several of us attended all three community workshops because, honestly, we weren’t sure what to expect. Particularly out in Countryside. Would they support our vision for downtown? Would they even care?
It turns out people do care. A lot. The first workshop at the Holiday Inn drew more than 80 people. As did the second workshop at Countryside Library. And the third at the Main Library drew 120! Standing room only. City officials were mighty impressed.
And even more impressive, everyone was on the same page. The project leader from HR&A (the consultants running the planning process) said afterward, “We were blown away with how positive everyone was. There were no naysayers or ‘just fine like it is’ attitudes.” Apparently Clearwater is proving to be more open and supportive than most places they go. How about that!
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The workshops started off with a presentation by the consultants about the scope of the project (66 acres covering the Coachman Park & Bluff parcel, the City Hall parcel, and the marina). They also showed numerous examples of popular waterfront parks around the country. Then we broke up into workgroups to brainstorm ideas.
The vast majority of ideas involved the Coachman parcel. Not much was said (yet) about the City Hall parcel. There was no doubt whatsoever that everyone wants a beautiful park with activities, features, and programming. So that’s where the attention went.
Popular ideas included a splash park, interactive fountains & water features, more trees & shade, walking paths, a bicycle path (ideally connected to the Pinellas Trail), steps on the waterfront, creative lighting, dog walk area, botanical gardens, movable seats and tables on the waterfront, pavilion on the bluff, sunset view areas, a large concert area, a smaller stage area for plays & gatherings, and, unanimously, removal of the lower parking lot and Harborview Center.
It was also apparent that the majority of the participants prefer open and natural terrain in the park and bluff, which could severely limit new construction. Thus many people urged that portions of the library be re-purposed for cultural and commercial activities given its prime location on the bluff.
The clear recurring theme of the park was “water”. (Clear… water… right?) The park design will reflect this. And another theme was “Clearwater’s family room“, meaning that the park should be primarily designed for locals and families, which will in turn likely draw tourists from the beach.
Parking is most definitely a challenge that needs to be solved. But it was virtually unanimous that the Coachman parcel isn’t the place for it. The consultants pointed out that there are 5,000 public parking spaces within a reasonable walk.
Beach traffic was also recognized as a critical problem. But as one downtown resident said: “We don’t want to become the beach’s parking lot.” Creative transit options are being evaluated, including the intriguing Beach Tran, that can be designed so as not to encroach on downtown’s greatest treasure.
The consultants and City were extremely pleased with the community response and the plethora of ideas raised. The next step is for the consultants to distill everything into a cohesive and comprehensive list over the next six weeks. After that, a new round of workshops will test the waters, so to speak, to get a sense of reactions and priorities. After all, nothing meaningful can happen without voter approval in a referendum. And the final step will be crafting an actual master plan that can serve as the basis for the referendum.
We will keep you informed all the way. Stay tuned to this channel!