CLEARWATER — The latest hotel proposal for Clearwater Beach aims to pile seven stories and 88 rooms on .59 acres of S Gulfview Boulevard.
That's cramming nearly three times the number of units technically allowed on a property that size. But the Gulfview Lodging project is being made possible by the city's hotel density reserve, a pool of extra rooms created a decade ago developers can draw from to expand their projects.
As the reserve dwindles, with about 50 of the original 1,385 rooms left for grabs, city officials say the experiment has accomplished what it set out to do: provide investors with an incentive to build and turn a sleepy beach into an international seaside destination.
Seven hotels have been constructed using rooms from the reserve and 12 others have been approved but not yet broken ground. An earlier pool for luxury resorts offered 600 extra rooms, and that incentive is what lured the Sand Pearl Resort, Hyatt Regency and Wyndham Grand Resort.
"It's definitely been successful," said Clearwater Vice Mayor Hoyt Hamilton. "We've added room inventory, and through that, we've been recognized as one of the top beaches in the country. You put those two things together, it's definitely good for the local economy."
The success has also come with a catch, as the concrete-packed beach has left little room for some to breathe. Frenchy's South Beach Cafe asked the City Council last month to vote down the Gulfview Lodging hotel, which would wrap in a "L" shape around the restaurant.
"It's totally inconsistent in size and bulk," attorney Paul Gionis said. "We're not opposed to development. Frenchy's obviously has interest in seeing development on the beach. ... This is a very different type of project than other ones built on such a small parcel of land."
The City Council approved the project, but it must still get a final green light from the Community Development Board in October. The seven-story hotel would replace an aging five-story, 32-unit hotel and 3,200-square-foot mixed use office on the site.
Attorney Brian Aungst Jr., who is representing Gulfview Lodging, said the project is exactly what the city's Beach by Design revitalization plan, which created the hotel reserve, had intended.
The project proposes an outdoor cafe, a rooftop swimming pool and a quality mid-sized accommodation amid the upper scale resorts.
Once the hotel density reserve is tapped out, Planning and Development director Michael Delk said he doesn't anticipate another round. The future should be about "managing the success" that has come from the new and higher scale hotels and the swarms of local tourists and international travelers they've attracted, Delk said.
He said that could mean continuing to manage traffic congestion, providing ways to get travelers to the beach without their cars and improving right of ways and landscape infrastructure. But some of it may mean plain adapting as well.
"The edginess of that transportation issue may soften a little bit, as people adjust to trips and behaviors that will be more compatible with the realities of really a pedestrian environment now versus strictly a vehicular environment," he said. "People can go out there for days and park your car and not start it up if you don't want to."
As midsized and resort hotels have taken over in the past decade, mom-and-pop holdouts like Billy Day's East Shore Resort have felt tangential effects as well.
The increase in property values that resulted from the surrounding development boom doesn't mean much to Day since the business he's run for 25 years won't be for sale "until after you see my name in the obituaries."
But he has been able to increase room rates to stay competitive with neighboring hotels, which helps pay his fixed costs, Day said.
Still, Day is part of the old-school contingent that longs for the more low-key and homey feel of the beach's past life.
"So psychologically I haven't benefitted, but maybe financially I have," Day said.
From the perspective of Alex Jansen, CEO of Coastal Properties Group International, the only real downside of rising hotels is the congestion more travelers bring to the beach.
He said first-time visitors that began coming for business meetings and conventions with the beach's first resort in 2007 at that time were buying residential beach properties to flip as investments. Now they are buying them as second homes to hold onto.
"We're out here every weekend, we see and speak with people who own homes out here and traffic is really the only negative they speak about," Jansen said. "The question is going to become, as the traffic increases, what's going to be done about it? That's the unknown."
Contact Tracey McManus at [email protected] or (727) 445-4151. Follow @TroMcManus.