CLEARWATER — Very soon, one of the four Frenchy's restaurants on Clearwater Beach will open up a sidewalk cafe with tables under umbrellas right alongside the BeachWalk promenade.
"We'll probably have eight or 10 tables. There'll be landscaping, and the color of our sidewalk will match BeachWalk. It's going to look classy," said Frenchy's operations manager Alan Ebbert, standing outside Frenchy's South Beach Cafe at 351 S Gulfview Blvd.
But first, Frenchy's had to get permission from the Clearwater City Council. That's because the flat patch of grass where it wants to put the tables is in the public right of way in front of the restaurant.
When council members took up this question last week, they had mixed feelings about it. They were mostly for it. But before they said "yes," they wanted to make sure they understood all the potential ramifications.
Council member Paul Gibson was initially opposed to the idea. He noted that Clearwater had invested in the $30 million BeachWalk specifically to spark major redevelopment efforts, not small improvements to existing buildings. For instance, BeachWalk led to the opening of the sizeable new Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach Resort and Spa earlier this year.
"If our objective is to redevelop that area, this is going in the opposite direction," Gibson said. "It's a good idea for Frenchy's. I don't think it's a good idea for redevelopment."
But council member John Doran saw it differently.
"I don't see any way that single parcel can ever be redeveloped the way we would want redevelopment to occur. It's too small. It has to be part of an assemblage to actually make it work," he said. "I don't see a single little parcel with 25 or 30 seats on it as blowing up a deal for a $30 (million) or $50 million redevelopment project."
The council had other questions:
• Would this give Frenchy's the permanent right to use that space? The answer was no. It would be a temporary permit that could be revoked at any time. That made Gibson feel better about it.
• Would this give neighboring businesses the right to do the same thing — to expand their boundaries right up to BeachWalk?
There wasn't a simple answer to that question. City Manager Bill Horne said officials would make these decisions on a case-by-case basis. "I wouldn't feel that we'd be obligated to continue the practice," he said.
But council members noted that there's more green space alongside BeachWalk south of Frenchy's. They figured that Britt's Laguna Grill might qualify for the same thing, once the restaurant is rebuilt as part of a multi-story parking garage.
Officials are well aware that more new resorts aren't likely to be built on the beach in the near future, anyway. The council unanimously approved the sidewalk cafe for Frenchy's.
"It'll look great," said Frenchy's marketing director Gerri Raymond. "So many beach communities just lend themselves to that — a beautiful place to sit outside and enjoy the water."
Mike Brassfield can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4160.