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Short-term pain for long-term gain

By TIMES STAFF
Published February 4, 2007


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Some Clearwater residents question the sanity of city officials who plan to bulldoze two-thirds of the existing public parking spaces along Clearwater Beach's S Gulfview Boulevard and replace them with ... well, nothing, immediately.

Insane? No. A recipe for motorist angst? You betcha.

What is about to happen on Clearwater Beach will be tough on beach visitors and merchants. There is no way to sugar coat that.

By the end of February, the city will start the next phase of Beach Walk, a project that will convert the current S Gulfview Boulevard to a meandering street bordered by public plazas, a bike path, fountains and lush landscaping. (Phase 1 was the widening of Coronado Drive.)

To do the project, the city plans to remove about 500 of the 750 parking spaces now located on the street and in asphalt parking lots on the gulf side of S Gulfview Boulevard.

When the initial planning for Beach Walk was done several years ago, the city expected a public parking garage to be completed or well under way by the time this phase of construction began.

That hasn't happened, for a variety of reasons. The city found it couldn't afford to buy land close to the water and also build the garage; the public opposed construction of a garage on land the city already owned on the gulf side of S Gulfview; several planned hotel projects that would include public parking in their garages were delayed by market conditions; and efforts to partner with other developers on a garage fell through.

The city could have stopped the launch of Beach Walk but was loathe to do so because city officials believe Beach Walk is key to revitalizing Clearwater Beach. Also, developers of several planned high-end hotels on S Gulfview were counting on Beach Walk to provide a nicer atmosphere for their guests and beach visitors. Anyone who has driven down S Gulfview lately knows the strip needs work.

So the city is going ahead with the project and suffering the slings and arrows of those who opposed Beach Walk all along or who became opponents because of the elimination of parking. Perhaps they envision what Spring Break is going to be like on Clearwater Beach after parking is removed.

However, all is not doom and gloom. The parking on S Gulfview is scheduled to be removed in stages, not all at once.

And it appears there will be public parking in some hotel garages, at least eventually.

Construction of the long-delayed Hyatt resort on S Gulfview has begun and will include a garage with 400 public parking spaces. The project will take about two years to build.

Last week the city announced it is negotiating with Lucca Development of Illinois, which is expected to start construction this year on the Marbella condominium project on S Gulfview, to include up to 300 public parking spaces in its garage. The city would pay up to $9-million for construction of those spaces.

City leaders also are talking with owners of empty lots on the beach about allowing temporary parking on their lots, just to help get through Spring Break. There is tremendous need for temporary spaces.

Because the hotel garages will not be finished for a year or two, the parking situation is going to be dire for a while. Beach visitors will need to be patient and carpool to the beach when possible. Merchants will need to look for creative ways to protect their bottom lines during the construction. The city should be available to assist merchants with special signage, maintenance of entrances, et cetera.

It is going to be rough, but the pain will be worth the gain. Beach Walk is going to be a great amenity for the residents and tourists of Clearwater.

[Last modified February 3, 2007, 21:03:01]


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