New downtown plan ready for critics
By CHRISTINA HEADRICK
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 2, 2001
CLEARWATER -- Last year, a $300-million plan to remake downtown was rejected by city voters, who refused to approve leasing the city's waterfront to a developer for 99 years. Then the city switched its focus to spurring the redevelopment of Clearwater Beach, where a proposed Marriott resort may be stalled by litigation.
It's time to go back to debating what to do about downtown.
City officials have planned a series of four public meetings this month to tell residents about the new plan, called Downtown Clearwater, Our Downtown. The city wants to gather residents' opinions on the plan before it is revised and approved later this year.
The proposal now is to keep the public waterfront in the city's hands, with Clearwater investing as much as $17-million in beautification and other improvements to downtown's core to attract new "destination" restaurants and specialty retail there.
"For this thing to be done right, we need to get a tremendous amount of public input," said City Commissioner Hoyt Hamilton. "We're going to have to take the slow road instead of the fast track. Slow, steady and let's get it right this time."
Other people who were disappointed when last year's downtown plan was defeated also seem ready for the new round of public debate.
West Palm Beach developer George de Guardiola, who proposed last year's rejected plan, has talked with city administrators about the new downtown plan. He is reviewing whether he could complete some of his previously proposed projects on privately owned land downtown.
The Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce also is encouraging its members to attend at least one of the upcoming meetings or watch them on C-VIEW, said Mike Meidel, president and chief executive officer of the chamber.
"We're trying to get people involved," Meidel said.
Although the chamber still needs to debate the new plan, Meidel said he was willing to help market downtown to retailers and restaurants to attract a "critical mass" of new businesses, which would help people feel more secure investing in the area.
Les Spits, the owner of a contemporary furniture store, Mooko International at 432 Cleveland St., said he thinks downtown still needs help. A lot of days, the sidewalks in front of his store are empty. A growing Internet order business boosts his bottom line.
"Since we went through that exercise last year, we learned what not to do, so we should be in good shape to make a well-educated decision here," Spits said. "We need not be in a hurry, but at the same time, we shouldn't just put (the new plan) on a shelf, like we've done in the past."
The new plan, which was prepared by the city's master redevelopment consultant, attorney Charlie Siemon of Boca Raton, suggests that the city create a new concert amphitheater in Coachman Park and hold more frequent events there to draw people to the area.
Coachman Park would be dramatically expanded over existing parking lots on the waterfront, while parking would be replaced at several new garages, some of which could be created as public-private partnerships with apartments or new retail space built into them.
In blunt language, the new proposal suggests that Harborview Center be renovated or demolished.
"Harborview . . . is simply unattractive -- banal and uncontextual," the plan states. "From Cleveland Street, the Harborview building is a cheerless barrier that isolates and strangles any sense of human place or interaction. The Osceola frontage is lifeless and foreboding."
The plan emphasizes beautifying Cleveland Street by adding touches such as magnolia and oak trees, fountains, crosswalks, new benches and improved street lighting. Some street parking could be replaced with wider sidewalks, to encourage the creation of sidewalk cafes.
New businesses could be eligible for some financial incentives, if the downtown plan is approved, such as receiving property tax breaks.
The plan would also establish design guidelines for downtown, encouraging limited but decorative signage, colorful awnings and eliminating an existing downtown height limit of 100 feet.
If you go
Clearwater is conducting public meetings on the city's latest downtown redevelopment plan this month from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on the following dates:
May 7 -- Martin Luther King Recreation Center, 1201 Martin Luther King Ave.
May 16 -- Clearwater Beach Recreation Center, 60 Bay Esplanade
May 22 -- Harborview Center, 300 Cleveland St.
May 24 -- Countryside Recreation Center, 2640 Sabal Springs Drive
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