CLEARWATER — Two of the city government's top projects — a beach parking garage and a downtown marina — may be undergoing some changes.
City leaders very much want to put a public parking garage on south Clearwater Beach. But they'll soon have to figure out whether they can really strike a deal for their preferred location along BeachWalk, or if they will have to go to a backup plan.
As for the 126 boat slips that Clearwater will soon build on its downtown waterfront, the City Council will consider reducing the rental fees for those slips in order to generate more interest from boaters.
Council members took up both issues at a work session Monday. They'll discuss the beach garage again at their meeting Thursday night. In two weeks, they'll revisit the subject of dock rental rates — for the downtown slips and the beach marina as well.
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Looking for a spot for a garage, the city has been negotiating with the owners of a Gulfview Boulevard property just south of the Hyatt Aqualea condo-hotel.
Surf Style Retail Management proposes building a six-floor, 500-space garage there. The city can't buy all 500 spaces immediately because of a noncompetition agreement with the Hyatt next door, whose parking garage will have 400 public spaces.
The plan was for the city to buy 300 spaces in the Surf Style garage's bottom four floors for nearly $13 million, then buy the remaining 200 spaces for $5 million in 2014.
But because of two new appraisals of the property and the way the financial numbers are shaking out, that deal would have to be restructured.
If the city and Surf Style can't reach an agreement, Clearwater would start negotiations with the owners of an acre a couple of blocks from the beach on Fifth Street between Hamden and Coronado drives.
"If they're not the ones, then we need to move on to the next one," council member John Doran said of Surf Style. "I think we need to move forward. The public wants a parking garage at the beach."
Downtown boat slips
As of Monday, 10 boaters had put down $500 deposits to rent one of the 126 boat slips to be built near Coachman Park.
The slips will range from 30 to 55 feet long, and rents are slated to be $15.50 per foot per month. To drum up more business, council member Paul Gibson suggested knocking those rates down to about $9 a foot, similar to what the city is charging boaters at the beach marina.
"It's better economically to have the marina full," Gibson said. "A downtown marina with lots of boats is better for downtown development than an empty marina."
A few weeks ago, Gibson had unsuccessfully argued to cancel or delay the $12.8 million project. But other council members decided to forge ahead because they see it as an important step in rejuvenating downtown, and think boaters will be more likely to put down money once they see construction on the floating docks start this spring.
If the city hadn't already spent money to start work on the boat slips, Mayor Frank Hibbard may have been willing to wait a couple of years.
Mike Brassfield can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4160.