CLEARWATER —Although the City Council formally approved the 10-year, potentially $55 million downtown waterfront revitalization plan this week, a centerpiece of the design will immediately be stalled in legislative red tape.
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The Imagine Clearwater plan calls for converting Coachman Park into a garden and relocating its concert band shell to a new 4-acre open green space, what is now the large parking lot just south of Coachman.
But the Special Act of 1925, passed when the state granted Clearwater strips of uplands and submerged lands to construct the Causeway Memorial bridge, prohibits any "carnivals or shows of any character" in the 500 feet north of a boundary that runs by the bridge — the roughly 500-foot outline of the proposed green.
An amendment to the Special Act of 1925 must be passed by the Florida Legislature to allow the band shell in the green. That will have to wait for the 2018 session.
Other development outlined in the Imagine Clearwater plan will require a referendum because city charter prohibits uses "other than open space and public utilities" on the area west of the 28-foot bluff line.
This would apply mostly to structures proposed for the waterfront like the playground, water features and art installations, along with a boardwalk with terraces planned for the bluff line.
City Attorney Pam Akin said staff will be able to draft a referendum question that covers the structures in time for the November ballot.
The good news, planning and development director Michael Delk said, is that the majority of what consultants designed to transform downtown's waterfront can be started on without red tape.
The Phase 1 projects, like turning the parking lot into the 4-acre green for activities like yoga, sports and concerts and transforming Coachman Park into a garden, does not require referendum approval because it deals with open space, Delk said.
"That's one of the really nice components of Imagine Clearwater is that it's not particularly onerous from an engineering or practical standpoint," Delk said. "It's all very, very doable."
Delk said staff's next steps will be hiring architects and engineers.
But council members also talked this week about preparing for the long-term changes planned for Phase 2.
The city plans to vacate the current City Hall at 112 S Osceola Ave., which overlooks the Intracoastal Waterway, and use it for redevelopment into a condo, retail or other uses. That sale or lease of that property will require voter approval, Akin said.
The city also plans to buy the Clearwater Marine Aquarium's 1.4 acre vacant lot across the street from City Hall in March to pair it with the City Hall redevelopment.
Seth Taylor, director of the Community Redevelopment Agency, said redeveloping under used and vacant parcels along Osceola Avenue could help bring in tax revenue to help fund the overall $55 million plan.
The Water's Edge condos on Cleveland Street within the CRA's special taxing district, for example, bring in more than half a million dollars in taxes to the CRA every year, Taylor said. Future redevelopment could do the same.
"These properties will provide the key revenue stream for us to maintain this to a world class standard," Taylor said. "I stress the importance of us thinking not just about the park but the edge of the park and all the pieces together."
Voters in 2016 already approved a series of charter amendments that included allowing the downtown Main Library to lease space for a cafe or restaurant, special events, art galleries or other compatible uses.
Without giving specific suggestions, consultants recommended the city take advantage of the library's rooftop promenade and ground floor terrace to spur economic development and link visitors between the library and the bordering Bluff Walk.
But council members warned parts of the redevelopment plan could still evolve as pieces are brought back to them for approval and funding.
For example, there were suggestions to revisit the consultant's plan to turn the space near the downtown marina that currently holds events like the Saturday farmers market into an estuary with a marsh, lagoon and basins to capture stormwater runoff in Phase 2.
Some, like council member Doreen Caudell and stakeholder committee member Brian Aungst, advocated for putting a waterfront restaurant, which would also require referendum approval, there instead.
Council member Hoyt Hamilton said this is still a work in progress.
"I don't want my (approval) to be construed that I buy all 146 pages, letter to letter, with no question," Hamilton said.
Contact Tracey McManus at email@example.com or (727) 445-4151. Follow @TroMcManus.
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