CLEARWATER — It took a decade and a focused campaign, but downtown boat slips are finally a reality.
On Thursday, community leaders celebrated the new marina they hope will help jump-start the economy downtown.
"It is another piece of the puzzle in making the downtown a very attractive place to come," said Mayor Frank Hibbard.
So far, just 38 of the 126 boat slips on Clearwater Harbor have been reserved. Those just south of the Clearwater Memorial Causeway bridge were finished earlier this year. The rest, north of the bridge, were wrapped up on Wednesday.
Critics have called them a waste of taxpayer money.
Hibbard acknowledged the timing might be off in light of the economy. But he told the crowd of about 150 at the celebration that he feels "100 percent assured this is going to be a success over time."
Three years ago, Clearwater voters narrowly approved the $12.8 million marina project, which includes a nearby promenade, boardwalk and fishing pier.
"If you remember, this odyssey started in 2003," Hibbard said. The next year, a referendum failed.
Scope was part of the problem, Hibbard said. The previous proposal included a garage and amphitheater on the waterfront near Coachman Park.
The other part was misinformation, he said.
Before the 2004 vote, a group called Save the Bayfront sent out an erroneous flier that showed a hodgepodge of items, like a fuel depot and fences, which weren't part of the plan.
"When we were first presenting this to the public there were a lot of misconceptions," said Bill Morris, director of Clearwater's marine and aviation department. "We had to get a consistent message out to the public."
A sweeping downtown redevelopment plan that included boat slips also failed a decade ago.
"We just kept coming back and fine tuning it and here we are today," said Vice Mayor John Doran. "I could never understand why we would have a bay without boat slips."
The slips range from 30 to 55 feet. Clearwater residents pay $9 per foot per month, and nonresidents pay $10.50. The marina also has space for free daytime visits and overnight slips, which run $2 per foot.
Morris said he expects the marina to be busy in October with the Clearwater Super Boat race and the Clearwater Jazz Holiday.
The slips may also be an asset for a nearby condominium tower, whose new owner recently slashed prices. So far, there are commitments to buy 30 units at Water's Edge, said condominium spokeswoman Karla Jo Helms.
The boat slips provide "an extra amenity that helps the sales," she said.
Lorri Helfand can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4155.