CLEARWATER — This city wants to be known for more than a great beach, awesome sunsets and a drive-thru downtown.
To that end, city officials are aggressively marketing downtown to developers, getting creative with incentive packages and investing in infrastructure amenities. The word has gone out: there are prime parcels — public and private — for redevelopment. Among them: City Hall itself, which overlooks the harbor.
According to Reg Owens, the city’s director of economic development and housing, the campaign has generated about 65 face-to-face meetings with developers — predominately residential — over the last year.
“What’s really driving us is the national trend for urban living,” points out Owens. “Clearwater is safe and clean. Properties can be assembled, and there’s a water view. And now that so much is built out, developers are looking at infill projects. We qualify.”
The city would get no argument from Nick Pavonetti, director of development for Beck Development LLC. Beck is positioned to begin the 140-condo-unit Station Square by the end of the first quarter of ’04.
“Clearwater is ripe for downtown residential,” states Pavonetti. “The support of everyone from Mayor (Brian) Aungst down is the reason we’re here.”
Among other planned downtown projects is the 20-story, $80-million Clearwater Bay Club, a hotel-condo-retail hybrid.
“If you’re putting something into the ground, this is the place,” says Lee Arnold, CEO and chairman of Colliers Arnold, the developer of Clearwater Bay Club. “We see pent-up demand.”
Ralph Stone, Clearwater’s assistant city manager, put the prospects in perspective.
“Clearwater doesn’t enjoy position on the transportation network, but we do enjoy a unique piece of geography,” points out Stone. “We can bring the waterfront into downtown. This could be Dunedin on steroids.”
City officials have also looked west — and did a double take when they glimpsed their pristine beach through the filter of reality. It was world-class in sand and water — but second-class in its many tired properties.
While the proposed $350-million Blue Isle Resort remains uncertain, it’s nothing but clear sailing for JMC Communities. Last year they opened the Mandalay Beach Club luxury condos. JMC is currently building Belle Harbor Condominiums, which will total 200 residences, some priced at more than $1 million.
“We looked at the beach market and saw a lack of recent quality development,” says Lee Allen, JMC’s vice president of finance. “A lack of supply of quality second homes.”
It’s the same story for hotels, according to Richard Gehring, a partner in the ownership group that is developing the Seashell Hotel near mid-beach. Seashell Resort LLD hopes to break ground by the end of next year on its 250-unit, $85-million project.
“We’ve had a lot of city support on issues such as density,” says Gehring. “There’s been no new resort development here for some time. And there’s still strong visitation.”
It’s all enough to get Mike Meidel gushing like the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce president that he is. “I’d call it a self-feeding catalyst,” says Meidel. “The city doing streetscapes and public amenities pools. We’re recruiting retail and restaurants. A number of residential properties are going through the permitting process. All the parts are coming together.”
Clearwater’s synergistic scenario for redevelopment includes more than $100 million worth of capital infrastructure improvements downtown and on the beach. Among them:
*The $64.2-million Memorial Causeway Bridge, set to open in early ’04.
*A 90,000-square-foot, $20-million main public library.
*A $7.5 redevelopment of Coachman Park and environs.
*$13.6 million worth of (downtown) streetscaping.
*Town Lake: $11.8-million urban park and lake.
*Approved plans for a 138-slip marina
*$2.5 million for streetscaping Mandalay Avenue on the North Beach
*Commitment to future development of a pedestrian beach promenade