Once again, Clearwater leaders are preparing to ask voters to sign off on a major downtown waterfront development.
City officials would like to see the Harborview Center, a former department store with a view of the Memorial Causeway, torn down and replaced with a mixed-use development that includes shops, restaurants and, possibly, a movie theater.
Work on such a project, however, is still years away. And under the city's charter it would need voter approval, which wouldn't happen before March 2010.
The City Council, sitting as the Community Redevelopment Agency, said Monday that officials first must meet with potential developers and devise a plan. The city also will hold several public meetings before selecting a developer.
The biggest obstacle could come from residents, who haven't exactly been friendly to waterfront development in the past decade, turning down a number of major mixed-use proposals, such as the $300-million array of public and private amenities, including a library, a botanical garden, apartments, a movie theater, a pier and three downtown parking garages proposed in 2000.
But voters last March did sign off on an $11-million proposal to build 129 boat slips, a fishing pier, a boardwalk and a promenade near Coachman Park.
Still, the site in question — 3.18 acres that includes Harborview Center, which features a Stein Mart department store. the Pickles Plus Too Deli and a 107-space parking lot — is a touchy issue for many residents.
In the past, some have said they'd like to turn the area into green space. Others feel the city should build a cultural center or a museum on the property.
Whatever happens, city leaders say they have to do something with the building. Although Stein Mart and Pickles have done well since the city bought the building in the early 1990s, the convention center has not. And at this point, money is tight and the convention center is a losing operation. In 2006, the city spent $342,000 to subsidize the center.
City leaders said Monday the development community will be interested in the site, mostly because of its location on the bluff.
Council members stressed that residential development is not allowed under current land use plans and they have no intention of changing that.
Mayor Frank Hibbard said he hoped developers could create a project to act as a catalyst to continued downtown revitalization.
He added that he'd like to see something "low-rise and attractive and kept for public use."
Whatever is built there, though, must be incorporated into nearby Coachman Park, the Main Library and the downtown core, Hibbard said.
Assistant City Manager Rod Irwin said he's "got five or six firms in mind" that he's planning to meet, but declined to name them because they haven't all been contacted. He said that several of the firms were local.
He added that other plans for the building, on the corner of N Osceola Avenue and Cleveland Street, could include a hotel with some convention space, so the city could keep some of the events typically hosted there.
City leaders said they would rather lease the land than sell it. They also acknowledged that any development could lead to a future parking problem, because the boat slips will be ready by then and more people may visit the Main Library as city leaders consider closing more branches as a cost-cutting measure.
Clearwater officials also said they want to work with Stein Mart and Pickles to keep them in the downtown.
They said they still have time to iron out those details.
During the next few years, city leaders want to revitalize the Harborview Center, above, and some of the land around it. Here's a look at the planned schedule:
April-May: Meet with potential developers
July: Council discusses what direction to move based on interviews
September: City leaders hold two or three resident focus groups to talk about the project
October: More details to the plan ironed out based on residents' suggestions
February 2009: City issues a request for proposals for developers
April 2009: Developer selected
August 2009: City and developer negotiate the details
March 2010: City lets residents vote on whether to approve the plan
December 2010: Work on the project starts if residents approve the plan