CLEARWATER — At the mayor's suggestion, the rest of Clearwater's elected officials are beginning to consider displaying the flags of U.S. service academies on flagpoles in the center of the Clearwater Beach Roundabout.
But they have a lot of questions, and at this point there's no consensus about what to do. They wonder whether the flags might turn out to be a traffic hazard, like a $1.7 million fountain that occupied the space originally and had to be torn down.
Also, some think Pier 60 Park might be a better spot to post a bunch of flags.
Mayor George Cretekos isn't pushing the issue too hard. He says he's simply interested in finding out whether the idea is workable and whether there's support for it. He thinks the flags of the five service academies or U.S. military branches would make a fitting end to the Clearwater Memorial Causeway, particularly since the other end of the causeway features statues of a World War I soldier and sailor.
Currently, there's a grassy field in the middle of the roundabout. That space has remained empty since the fountain was demolished in 2002.
"A lot of people have said that we need to put something there to replace the fountain," Cretekos said Monday during a Clearwater City Council work session. "But my concern has always been safety. If you put something in the roundabout, you don't want it to be, for lack of a better term, a photo opportunity so that people are crossing the street to get to the roundabout to take a picture."
Council members discussed the idea this week, but didn't vote. Instead, they asked the Parks and Recreation Department to explore whether the idea is feasible.
Vice Mayor Paul Gibson recalled how the fountain had to be torn down because it obstructed drivers' view of the other side of the roundabout. He would want any flags to be high enough to not block the street-level view. Cretekos said he was envisioning five flags up in the air on flagpoles, with an American flag in the center of them.
Gibson was still worried about pedestrians darting through traffic to get to the walkway that's in the center of the roundabout. He sees enough of that already, and wonders if flags would attract more of it.
Council member Doreen Hock-DiPolito suggested switching the flags' location to the entrance of nearby Pier 60 Park, where dozens of painted fiberglass dolphins were on display during last year's Republican National Convention.
"I would be more comfortable with that," said council member Bill Jonson, who was in office a decade ago when Clearwater leaders voted to get rid of the roundabout's fountain.
The five service academies are the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y.; the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.; the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn.; the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, N.Y.; and the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Mike Brassfield can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4151. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.