By Compiled by Times staff writer
© St. Petersburg Times, published June 4, 2000
Voters have many questions about July 11 ballot measures on downtown redevelopment, according to organizers on both sides. On Friday, the Times interviewed City Attorney Pam Akin in an attempt to answer a few of them.
Q: What will Clearwater residents be voting on?
A: They'll be asked to consider three ballot items.
The first item will ask whether the city should lease "certain real property" downtown for up to 99 years and whether that property may be redeveloped as described in a master plan by developer George de Guardiola. The property in question is seven parcels:
The second item asks voters to consider authorizing $15-million in revenue bonds for the proposed library, which also would house city offices.
The third item asks voters to approve a land swap between the city and Calvary Baptist Church that would facilitate the church's move to east Clearwater. The developer plans to purchase the church's downtown property if the plan is approved.
Q: I've seen color drawings of de Guardiola's plans. Won't I be voting on those as well?
A: No. The ballot measures lay out the steps necessary to execute those plans. Although the plans are generally firm, there may be some refinements if the ballot measures are approved. For example, the current drawings show a grand staircase down Cleveland Street to the waterfront, but they don't show any of the features that would be required for wheelchair users.
Q: What happens if some of the ballot items pass and others don't?
A: City officials don't really know. For example, if the library bond issue is approved but the downtown redevelopment item fails, the developer's role is suddenly eliminated. If the redevelopment item passes and voters reject the land swap with Calvary Baptist Church, another muddy scenario arises. "Does the church still move? I don't know," Akin said.
Q: Why are there loose ends? Couldn't the city and de Guardiola have hammered out the details on the leases, for example?
A: According to Akin, lease negotiations such as these are "extremely time-consuming" and expensive for both sides. The city, she said, has budgeted $500,000 just to complete documents if the referendum is approved. The lease question is a "threshold issue" for the developer, she said. To negotiate it "before you can even lease the property is probably not fiscally responsible," she said.
Q: As a taxpayer, then, what assurance do I have now -- before the election -- that the developer will do what he has promised to do?
A: City officials say, in essence, that the public will have to rely on them to do their jobs well. Mayor Brian Aungst promised last week that the agreements with the developers would be "air-tight." Akin said her office will take pains to ensure the city is fully protected.
Q: Where can I get more information?
A: These three Internet sites are helpful:
http://www.ci.clearwater.fl.us/ (City of Clearwater)
http://clearwateryes.org (Citizens for a Better Clearwater)
http://web.tampabay.rr.com/clearwater (Clearwater Citizens, related to Save the Bayfront)