CLEARWATER — With the price of land dropping on Clearwater Beach, City Council members indicated Monday that they're leaning toward building a public parking garage right along the recently finished BeachWalk promenade.
A seven-story, 500-space garage would go on Gulfview Boulevard just south of the Hyatt Aqualea condo-hotel that's currently under construction.
Council members have recently been trying to choose between four or five potential sites for the long-delayed garage. They said last month that they liked this particular location but that it was too expensive, so they would look hard at their other options.
Since then, the price has plummeted by nearly $4-million.
"It's got a great location, and the price per space has gotten down to something I consider attractive," council member John Doran said Monday.
The deal is far from final, and the idea doesn't have the City Council's unanimous support. But it appears that a majority of council members will likely vote at their meeting Wednesday night to have city staffers begin serious negotiations with the developer who owns the land.
At Monday's meeting, they discussed the particulars of the deal they've been offered:
Developer Avi Ovaknin, president of Surf Style Retail Management, would build a six-floor garage above one floor of retail on his property. The city would spend $12.9-million to buy about 300 spaces on the garage's bottom four floors. Previously, the price had been $16.6-million.
As part of the bargain, the city would agree to spend another $5-million in 2014 to buy the remaining 200 or so parking spaces on the upper two floors from Surf Style, which would own those spaces until then. The city had been considering such an arrangement anyway.
But council member Carlen Peterson objected to the second part of the deal, saying she had "heartburn" over committing to spend another $5-million in six years. The city may not need another 200 spaces, she said.
Council member Paul Gibson argued that the deal would be worth it. He noted that the city spent $30-million on the BeachWalk project and now has significantly less beach parking than it used to.
"Yes, this is $5-million more, but it's also 200 parking spaces more, and that's in line with what I think we need," Gibson said. He added that the Surf Side location is better than alternatives farther from the beach because pedestrians leaving the garage wouldn't be dodging traffic on Coronado Drive to get to the sand.
Vice Mayor George Cretekos still favors building a garage on the existing waterfront parking lot on S Gulfview next to where the old Adam's Mark hotel once stood.
"We're not going to lose any kind of view," he said, and it would be a lot cheaper because that's city-owned land.
However, residents have opposed that idea, saying it would close the window to one of the only places on south Clearwater Beach where motorists can catch a glimpse of the Gulf of Mexico from their cars.
Mayor Frank Hibbard and council members Doran and Peterson oppose building a garage on the waterfront.
Hibbard noted Monday that the city has millions in beach parking revenue set aside to build a garage, as well as Penny for Pinellas sales tax money.
The mayor said the Surf Side property "is the best location we have to choose from."
Mike Brassfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4160.