Clearwater keeps beach parking plan alive

CLEARWATER — Seeking to build a much-needed public parking garage on Clearwater Beach, the city will keep talking to two competing property owners who are offering up land near the sand.

The City Council decided Thursday night to continue trying to strike a deal for a 500-space garage at its preferred location along the BeachWalk promenade. But the city is also pursuing a backup plan in case that falls through.

The city will continue negotiating with the owners of a Gulfview Boulevard property just south of the Hyatt Aquilea condo-hotel. If that doesn't work out, Clearwater will start negotiations with the owners of an acre a couple of blocks from the beach on Fifth Street between Hamden and Coronado drives.

The council prefers the first option because it would allow beachgoers to park right by the beach and not have to walk across Coronado, which carries heavy traffic in tourist season.

"My preference is to keep the pedestrians off Coronado Drive," said council member Paul Gibson.

But the proposed deal has run into complications. Council members say they're anxious to get going on a beach garage, and they won't wait indefinitely.

"I still believe it's a far better location," said Mayor Frank Hibbard. "My only concern is, how long do we give it?"

Clearwater will pay for the roughly $18 million garage with revenue from beach parking meters as well as the city's share of Penny for Pinellas sales taxes.

Vice Mayor George Cretekos expressed interest in the city's second option, the site on Fifth Street. Although it's slightly farther from the beach, he noted that it's also farther from the Hyatt's parking garage. If the city put its garage on Fifth Street, the available parking would be more spread out.

Cretekos suggested ordering new appraisals for the Fifth Street property, which may be cheaper now than it was when the city first considered putting a garage there in 2007.

The council told city staffers to get the appraisals and to keep talking to the property's owner.

At the city's preferred location along BeachWalk, property owner Surf Style Retail Management proposes building a six-floor, 500-space garage. One complicating factor is that the city can't buy all 500 spaces immediately because of a noncompetition agreement with the Hyatt, whose 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, that deal will have to be restructured and Surf Style will have to get more financing up front.

By next month, the City Council wants to see written assurances that this will happen. It's sending a message to Surf Style:

"We want to move forward," Hibbard said, "but we have a backup plan if they cannot perform."

Mike Brassfield can be reached at brassfield@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4160.

Clearwater keeps beach parking plan alive 02/06/09 [Last modified: Friday, February 6, 2009 9:50pm]

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