CLEARWATER — For more than a decade, the city has wanted to put a parking garage on Clearwater Beach. The job became more urgent last year after the half-mile-long BeachWalk promenade wiped out hundreds of waterfront parking spaces along S Gulfview Boulevard.
There's no place to park, complained beachgoers and business owners.
So when the City Council voted unanimously Thursday night to strike a deal to put a 300-space garage along BeachWalk, the council chambers at City Hall erupted with a rare burst of applause.
Council members decided to pursue the deal once they became convinced that the garage, which is to be built in a flood zone, will almost certainly win approval from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. City Attorney Pam Akin also reassured them that Clearwater will be able to escape from the deal if FEMA rejects the plan.
"This certainly has been a long time in coming. And until the shovels are broken out, it is not done by any stretch," said Mayor Frank Hibbard, who warned that even a garage won't totally fix the parking situation on the beach. "We are always going to have traffic problems when we are at peak."
Still, council members felt that the site they chose is the best option for pedestrians, who won't have to walk across four-lane Coronado Drive to get from their parked cars to the sand.
The garage will go on the site of the Britt's Laguna Grill restaurant at 315 S Gulfview Blvd., just south of the large Hyatt Aqualea Resort that's under construction.
Surf Style Retail Management, the company that owns the site, plans to put a Britt's restaurant and a Surf Style beach retail store on the structure's ground floor with four levels of parking above that.
The company will pay to build the garage itself, with no city tax dollars. It envisions the 300 parking spaces feeding customers into the ground-floor businesses. Vehicles will enter and exit the garage from Coronado Drive.
Between permitting and construction, the job is expected to take slightly more than a year. "By next fall, it should all be done," said Bill Finfrock, whose design/build firm will construct the garage.
So what will it cost to park there? That has yet to be determined.
The city intends to mimic the agreement it has with the Hyatt next door, which will have 400 parking places for the public in its 750-space garage. The Hyatt's rates must be "comparable" to the garages of other beachfront resorts.
Surf Style's competitor for the parking garage deal was the development company Mainstream America, which offered up a site on Fifth Street between Hamden and Coronado drives. Mainstream's proposal for a 300-space garage would cost the city about $32,000 per space.
Mainstream's representatives warned the City Council on Thursday night that Surf Style's proposal had too many potential pitfalls.
Mainstream's development consultant, Ed Hooper, warned that 1,600 parking places clustered at three locations on Gulfview Boulevard — the Hyatt, the Britt's site and developer Kiran Patel's proposed resort — could cause "a traffic nightmare."
But the council still preferred Britt's.
"This is a very clear, very easy decision for me," said Council member Paul Gibson.
Mike Brassfield can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4160.