CLEARWATER — Four developers have submitted their visions for what the city should do with its long-vacant Prospect Lake site downtown.
Their architectural drawings present vivid images of couples and young singles strolling and noshing at outdoor cafes or biking past gleaming townhomes and apartment buildings on what is now a nearly seven-acre parcel overlooking a former retention pond off Cleveland Street.
It's a slice of downtown that city leaders and boosters desperately want to spruce up to spur an economic rebound.
"The most important thing is that we get development out of this deal," said Bill Sturtevant, chairman of the Clearwater Downtown Partnership, who said the residential real estate market has been on the upswing lately — but that could change. "The window is open, nobody knows how long that window will remain open."
But while the firms — two from the Tampa Bay region along with competitors from the Orlando area and Atlanta — agree on building something to attract an upscale crowd, they all made different pitches to the city in bids submitted last month.
City planners and economic development officials are getting close to a decision.
"We're hoping to have everything ready by the end of the week," Geraldine Campos Lopez, the city's Economic Development and Housing director, said Tuesday.
The selection committee will formally recommend its choice to the city's Community Redevelopment Agency at its June 18 meeting.
A Clearwater developer, Bayshore Broadway LLC, offered the boldest idea. The group didn't offer a site plan, stating it would be irresponsible to just plan and build on the Prospect Lake parcel. Instead, the development should stretch from Crest Lake Park east of downtown to Clearwater Harbor.
Move City Hall eastward and use it to anchor redevelopment, Bayshore Broadway proposed. And don't stop there, but keep developing to the harbor and "perhaps reposition the epicenter of . . . downtown."
The idea is to create a town center with a New Urbanism feel, with City Hall as a nucleus, supporting a mix of retail, townhomes and apartments.
A proposal for a new Clearwater Marine Aquarium where City Hall currently sits will be put to voters in November. Clearwater is weighing options for a new site for City Hall.
Some remain unconverted about sweeping change to the city's downtown.
"Pie in the sky," said Sturtevant of Bayshore's vision.
Others, notably Mayor George Cretekos, said they're open to the idea.
Sturtevant also said a plan by New Vision Communities to develop a hotel and senior housing on the site along with 20 townhomes wouldn't work.
That plan will create a synergistic energy within downtown, according to a plan advanced by the Tampa firm.
But both of those plans offer retail space, something city planning officials say that they want.
Retail isn't part of the mix offered by the Hatfield Development Co. of Atlanta, which tailored its proposal to four four-story apartment buildings containing 208 units estimated to rent for between $950 and $1,550 a month.
Hatfield's plan doesn't include retail options, but instead focuses on housing that would attract young professionals and empty nesters that "would support the ongoing revitalization of downtown, Capitol Theatre and the future aquarium."
Jack Mortimer, the president of the Downtown Neighborhood Association, said his group would embrace any plan that brings young professionals into downtown.
"It seems like the right demographic," he said.
But Mortimer said he'd also like to see Prospect Lake's rebirth include economic development, specifically technology jobs. The area in and around downtown is already home to about 600 tech workers employed by a dozen or so companies.
The Prospect Real Estate Group from Longwood near Orlando includes plans for a 15,000-square-foot community services building billed as a business incubator and "angel investor space."
Prospect, which would build one- and two-bedroom units geared to the "creative class," with rooftop terraces, a dog park and wireless connectivity, also touted its green credentials: drought-resistant landscaping, LED lighting, filter strips to catch stormwater in parking lots, and possibly using water from Prospect Lake for irrigation.
Cretekos said city staff hasn't briefed him on any of the plans yet, but he would like to see a broader vision of redevelopment in place.
"The only thing I'm concerned about is that sometimes we do a step-by-step process and look at one piece of property and not look at the whole East Gateway area. I'm hoping we can have a discussion about looking at the whole area instead of just Prospect Lake."
Charlie Frago can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4159. You can follow him on Twitter @CharlieFrago