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Vision for city is ready to view

Town meetings about downtown redevelopment plans are scheduled for the next three days. The public makes the final decision in a July vote.


© St. Petersburg Times, published April 27, 2000

CLEARWATER -- Two West Palm Beach developers are to unveil a downtown redevelopment plan today that would add hundreds of new housing units and more shopping downtown, expand the city's waterfront park and transform the Harborview Center into a movie theater, city officials say.

Developers George de Guardiola and David Frisbie are inviting the public to see their plans and comment at town meetings that begin at 7 tonight at the Harborview convention center, 300 Cleveland St. The meetings resume at 8 a.m. and noon Friday, and at 10 a.m. Saturday.

De Guardiola estimates that he and Frisbie have talked to as many as 2,000 people in focus groups and community meetings over the past two months to help prepare their plan.

"Hopefully, we listened well enough that the input we received will be incorporated into the master plan," De Guardiola said Tuesday. "Hopefully, people are going to say, gee, this is what we want for our downtown."

De Guardiola has floated most aspects of the plan in community meetings, although he declined to be specific about tonight's unveiling. But city officials he briefed this week said the proposal includes these elements:

Coachman Park would expand to cover parking lots on the bayfront. A series of decorative steps would lead to the water.

Two new downtown parking garages would be built, most likely with retail and residential units mixed into the projects.

A new main library would be built on the city's publicly owned waterfront bluff, possibly with retail shops mixed in at its entrance.

Harborview Center would be converted into a stadium-seating movie theater whose rooms could double as meeting rooms for large business groups.

Calvary Baptist Church would be purchased by the developers, although its future use was not disclosed yet.

Eventually, City Hall could be moved and housing built at its former location on the waterfront.

After this week's town meetings, there will be a fast-paced 10 weeks of debate before the plan becomes official.

The City Commission intends to consider the plan and take a vote on it in three weeks. The public makes the ultimate decision in a referendum scheduled July 11.

City officials wanted more time before holding the referendum, City Manager Mike Roberto said last week.

But due to a busy presidential election season this fall, the next available dates for the city to hold an election, according to the Pinellas County election supervisor, were in December or January. The developers -- who are trying to line up options to buy downtown property -- didn't want to wait until next year for a decision.

"The next 10 weeks are going to be hectic for all of us," said Mayor Brian Aungst. "But we're going to be out there talking about a dream and a vision. The first time I brought this up, a lot of people looked at me like I was crazy. We're this far and hopefully, hopefully, we're now going to be able to make it work."

Most city commissioners said Tuesday and Wednesday that despite today's presentation, they still need more details on how much the plan will cost the city and how projects will be financed. City Attorney Pam Akin said those questions will be answered when the city finishes agreements with the developers, which she said would happen soon.

Charlie Siemon, the Boca Raton attorney and planning consultant negotiating on behalf of the city with the developers, said he thinks the final partnership won't strain the city's budget.

Siemon said he won't be surprised if people have a lot of questions about the downtown redevelopment plans.

"For Clearwater," he said, "it really is very much like going from the minor leagues to the major leagues. What's going to happen (tonight) is kind of like Opening Day.

"A pair of developers is going to have some major things to present as possible. They're willing to do these things. That's going to be a dramatic change from anything this city has ever seen."

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