CLEARWATER — Voters moved a step closer Wednesday to deciding if Winter the dolphin gets a new home after the City Council approved a November referendum on a downtown aquarium.
The Nov. 5 special election will determine if the Clearwater Marine Aquarium will build a $160 million facility where City Hall now stands on Osceola Avenue on the downtown waterfront.
The aquarium is paying for the referendum and will add 50 cents to every ticket to pay up to $7.5 million for the city to build a new City Hall.
The final okay came with little discussion from council members.
Some residents from the nearby Pierce 100 condominium said they worried a new aquarium and an influx of visitors would make it nearly impossible to get in and out of their building.
Aquarium officials have predicted that a new showcase for Winter, dolphin Hope and the aquarium's other residents would draw more than 2 million visitors downtown.
The aquarium's chief operating officer, Frank Dame, told council members that the planned extension of Drew Street to the old Pierce Boulevard would provide another outlet for the condo's residents.
"Right now, we're bringing 317,000 people downtown. We're not seeing a material difference in the traffic congestion in the Pierce Street area," Dame said. "We are thinking about those issues for the Pierce 100 residents."
The council also gave green lights to two hotel projects on Clearwater Beach, including one that they scuttled earlier this year.
An earlier, larger version of a proposed Hampton Inn and Suites at 655 S Gulfview Blvd. was defeated by a 3-2 vote in February.
This time, for a 14-story, 90-room hotel, developer Steve Page asked for several dozen fewer rooms from the city's hotel density pool and reduced the size of the facility by 30,000 square feet.
Ed Armstrong, an attorney representing Page, said the new version met all the council's concerns.
"We heard you loud and clear the last time," he said.
The council also signed off on an expansion of the Sea Captain Resort, a quaint two-story motel dating from the 1950s that is converting to a nine-story, 85-room hotel at 40 Devon Drive.
Charlie Frago can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4159. You can follow him on Twitter @CharlieFrago. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters or mail to 1130 Cleveland St., Suite 100, Clearwater, FL 33755.