CLEARWATER — For more than a decade, the city has wanted to put a parking garage on south Clearwater Beach. The job became more urgent two years ago after the half-mile-long BeachWalk promenade wiped out hundreds of waterfront parking spaces along S Gulfview Boulevard.
After months of delay, the City Council struck a deal Thursday night with a developer who will build a 300-space public garage along BeachWalk. Council members voted for it unanimously even after hearing some last-minute opposition to the project.
"We're doing this because people have been demanding additional parking at Clearwater Beach for as long as I've been here, since 1983," said council member John Doran. "It's been demanded, requested, it's been begged for, and it's been promised in one form or another for a long time."
The garage will replace Britt's Laguna Grill and the Surf Style retail store in the 300 block of S Gulfview Boulevard, just south of the Hyatt Regency Resort that opened earlier this month. The new Hyatt also has a 750-space garage, with 400 spaces open to the public.
Surf Style Retail Management, the company that owns the site, plans to put a new Britt's restaurant and Surf Style store on the structure's ground floor with four levels of parking above that. Vehicles will enter and exit the garage from Coronado Drive.
The company will pay to build the garage itself, with no city tax dollars. It envisions the 300 parking spaces feeding customers into the ground-floor businesses. Surf Style also gets the right to expand its retail and restaurant space at the site from 13,000 to 38,000 square feet.
So what will it cost to park there? That has yet to be determined. The city is requiring that parking rates be "comparable" with other beachfront locations.
Probably the most controversial part of the deal — or at least the part that has sparked the most discussion — is the fact that Clearwater is setting aside $9.3 million in city reserves to buy the garage if it goes into foreclosure within five years.
That has prompted questions from citizens, including City Council candidate Mike Riordon, who called for an independent audit of the deal.
"This is the public's money," he said Thursday night. "I think this is some kind of a sweetheart deal," he added, because the building the garage is expected to cost about $30,000 per space, and other places don't pay nearly that much.
Council members responded that this garage will cost more than most because of the high price of beachfront land, plus the fact that the garage is required to have an more aesthetically pleasing design than the average parking structure.
Mayor Frank Hibbard said it's an opportunity to have the private sector provide beach parking instead of making the city pay for it.
"If all goes well … we will not outlay any money," Hibbard said. "To me, that is a pretty good business deal and that is the reason I'm going to support this."
Council members also think this site is the best option for pedestrians, who won't have to walk across four-lane Coronado Drive to get from their parked cars to the sand.
The agreement requires Surf Side to begin construction by the end of September.
Mike Brassfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4160.