CLEARWATER— Clearwater Beach won't get its sand castle playground after all.
At the City Council's Monday work session, members scuttled the concrete play structure proposed for the Pier 60 area. Envisioned to look like a giant sand castle that would draw tourists, city officials had hoped it would help cement the beach's reputation as the best in the country.
A Minnesota company would have installed the playground by September in time for the busy tourist season.
But last week, the Clearwater Beach Chamber of Commerce and the Clearwater Beach Association announced their opposition, saying the $440,000 slated for the project would be better spent on additional parking and extended hours for the beach library and recreation center.
The city's Parks and Recreation Advisory Board hasn't formally notified the council, but its members voted against the playground at a recent meeting, too.
"Their reason being is that they believe dollars should be spent on the residents, not necessarily on the tourists," said Kevin Dunbar, parks and recreation director.
Vice Mayor Paul Gibson said the community had spoken.
"I can't find anyone who does (support it). I would be in favor of not constructing it, moving on and wasting as little time as possible on this," he said.
Council member Doreen Hock-DiPolito, who had been a vocal supporter of the project, didn't speak up for it at the meeting. During a break, she said she still liked the idea but would support a scaled-back plan of creating a flag plaza and buying a new welcome sign for the beach. City officials have estimated those costs to be around $120,000.
Mayor George Cretekos said last week he was uncomfortable spending so much money on a new beach playground when numerous playgrounds had been torn down in other parts of the city.
Dunbar said his department had been acting as "good stewards" of the taxpayer money. The city closed or planned to close nine playgrounds that were outdated, near other playgrounds or underused and vandalized, he said.
Several new playgrounds have been built in the city since the department reviewed its inventory in 2006, Dunbar said.
Still, Cretekos said, "I'm a whole lot more comfortable" expanding playgrounds in other parts of the city than on the beach. Pier 60 already has a playground, which would have stayed open even if the sand castle playground project had been approved.
The council agreed to take up the flag plaza and sign plans at its Thursday regular meeting.
Also on Monday, the council agreed to postpone the decision to set a Nov. 5 referendum on whether the Clearwater Marine Aquarium should be allowed to lease city land, including City Hall, for a new aquarium. The council will review the 75-word ballot language and revisit the issue at its June 3 work session.
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.