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Streetscaping puts city on road to marketing it

A Times Editorial
Published December 7, 2007


With the downtown streetscaping almost complete, Clearwater city officials have started work on the next phase of the revitalization of downtown: marketing the "new" downtown and recruiting new retailers.

By a vote of 4 to 1, the City Council, sitting as the Community Redevelopment Agency, Monday approved a new logo that features a swath of modernistic flowers and colored dots on a black background. The logo, which was developed with the assistance of a consultant and focus groups, will be used in all the marketing and recruiting materials, on street banners and in advertising.

Council member George Cretekos voted against the new logo because he didn't like the use of a black background to promote a downtown in sunny Florida. Other council members either thought the black provided a touch of panache, or they were willing to defer to the focus groups' top choice. The new logo will be unveiled at the formal opening of the streetscape on Dec. 14.

There was one surprise in the discussion of the logo: It will be Cleveland Street, not the entire downtown, that is promoted. In fact, the logo features the words "Cleveland Street," not "downtown Clearwater." The strategy of focusing on Cleveland Street was recommended by a consultant who studied the downtown and its potential.

With the streetscape done, Mayor Frank Hibbard was eager to dispatch with items like approval of a logo and move on to what he says is more important: what the city and CRA are going to do to recruit new restaurants, cafes and shops into the moribund downtown.

"When I hear it might be the middle of next year (before that effort begins), that disturbs me," he said.

Hibbard's instinct is a good one. The more downtown declines, the more difficult it will be to bring it back to life. And it can take a long time to travel the road from recruiting a new business to seeing that business open downtown.

Assistant City Manager Rod Irwin pointed out that the council members will soon be asked to approve a request for proposals from consultants who could help develop a retail recruiting and marketing strategy for Cleveland Street. The city also is in discussions with the major downtown property owners, who Irwin said will have to be on board, for the simple reason that they have the land.

That's a worry for some city officials, including City Manager Bill Horne, who asked the council members if they had any suggestions about how to win the cooperation of the property owners.

"Historically, our property owners have shown a great deal of independence in how they embrace change," Horne said delicately.

Hibbard was more blunt.

"I don't think we're here to (provide incentives to) anybody who's unreasonable, and some of our property owners in downtown are," he said.

Some property owners have been notoriously unreasonable in the past, bucking any proposal for change. Others have had legitimate disagreements with the city's past visions.

It is hoped that those who have been closed to city plans in the past will be ready to collaborate with the city now, because whether they like it or not, downtown Clearwater has changed around them.

The beach traffic is gone, Cleveland Street is a dead end and storefronts are bare. Those are the negatives, but there are positives that portend the future: The city has made a major investment in a new streetscape that finally has turned Cleveland Street into a place more attractive for pedestrians than automobiles. And for the first time in many years, cranes tower over downtown, building condominium homes for new residents who will want, even demand, a fresh, thriving downtown that meets their needs.

[Last modified December 6, 2007, 23:55:53]

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