More than 10 years after the city first started talking about putting a parking garage on Clearwater Beach, council members are moving ahead with a plan to buy property for the project.
But some local real estate experts are questioning whether the city's efforts will be successful.
In the past, Clearwater has talked with property owners and developers about putting together enough land to build a garage, but council members said the price grew too steep because the owners viewed the city as an unlimited source of cash.
This time, though, city leaders say the rapidly dropping economy coupled with rising taxes and insurance costs could make property owners willing to sell.
If so, the city is ready to deal.
"I look at this more as a life preserver (for the owners) rather than a lotto ticket," Mayor Frank Hibbard said.
The City Council on Monday asked its attorney, Pam Akin, to put together a request for proposals to hire a land broker who will meet with beach property owners in an attempt to assemble enough land for a garage.
Officials said they want about 1 acre that can be accessed from at least two roadways. They also want land south of the roundabout where most of the beach traffic is generated.
The city does not want to build on the waterfront, but rather a few blocks away.
The council didn't agree on a price, but most likely the broker could get up to 3.5 percent of the sale of the land or nothing if it didn't go through. The council would have to approve any sale.
If the efforts fail, the council wants the broker to create an analysis telling city leaders why it cannot be done. That's expected to cost about $5,000, Councilman Paul Gibson said.
The city expects to hire someone within a month or so.
"We'll have a lot of interest," Akin said. "I don't think it's going to take that much time for people to respond."
One broker, Georgette Gillis of Clearwater Beach, has already said she'll apply. Gillis, owner of Viewpoint Realty International Inc., said she knows of several areas where "landowners will be creative and work with the city."
"There are a lot of condo projects that fell through and the people are looking for a way out," Gillis said. "There are also some in financial trouble that can use all the help they can get."
Others, though, disagree about whether enough land can be cobbled together at a reasonable price.
Several real estate experts who spoke Tuesday with the St. Petersburg Times said they didn't think the plan would work.
"An assemblage, regardless of what it's for, is one of the most difficult things to achieve in real estate because all you need is one stumbling block," said Jim Warner, a broker with VIP Realty on Sand Key. "And once the word 'assemblage' comes out of your mouth, everybody's prices go up by 25 percent."
Warner pointed to last year's failed efforts by property owners to consolidate land for a major commercial project along East Shore Drive, between the Clearwater Memorial Causeway and Belle Harbor Condominiums. High costs crushed the deal.
"It's significantly more difficult to deal with seven to 10 property owners than it is to deal with one," said David Little, a real estate agent with ReMax 1st Class.
"It can become impossible because of one or two holdouts. But in this market, I'm sure there are some anxious sellers. It all boils down to the price because a lot of people paid a high price and they want that money back."
The city is nearing completion on its massive BeachWalk promenade project, a spiraling walkway and seating area designed to lure visitors. The project, which stretches about a half-mile from Pier 60 to the former Adam's Mark location, has eaten up hundreds of parking spaces along S Gulfview Boulevard.
The council has agreed that the only viable place to build a garage — if done on public property — would be on a city-owned parking lot next to where the former Adam's Mark Hotel once stood.
But a majority of council members say they won't approve that plan because the lot is too close to the sand. However, they admit they may revisit the idea if a broker is not successful.
The city has about $6-million set aside to buy property and more than $12.5-million in planned revenues earmarked for a parking garage in last year's voter-approved Penny for Pinellas sales tax.