CLEARWATER — A plan that has been floating around for 15 years will finally come to fruition. A large new public parking garage is coming to north Clearwater Beach after elected officials approved a hard-fought agreement with the garage's developer Wednesday night.
The seven-story garage could be built as early as next year at Pelican Walk Plaza, a shopping center in the beach's Mandalay Avenue business district.
The Clearwater City Council unanimously approved an agreement that outlines how the 642-space garage will be constructed and operated. The vote came after council members repeatedly heard from beach business owners who strongly support the new garage, as well as neighboring residents who oppose it.
The garage's detractors, who are threatening legal action, say it will be too big and boxy and will cause traffic problems. But surrounding businesses say more parking is badly needed.
"Obviously, some of the neighbors aren't going to be happy," Mayor George Cretekos said before voting. "But it is a tourist resort destination area. It has always been that."
"A parking garage doesn't increase traffic," council member Hoyt Hamilton said. "It gives traffic another place to get off the road."
The garage was also the subject of intense last-minute negotiations between the city and the company that's building the garage — Safety Harbor developer Paradise Group LLC.
The two sides are entering into a public-private partnership. But as recently as last week, the deal was in danger of falling apart. At issue was how much flexibility the city and the developer will each have in using their allotment of parking spaces.
Paradise will build the garage, and Clearwater is to pay $11.3 million for 450 spaces on the middle levels. That money comes from parking meters and parking tickets.
In an interview Wednesday, City Manager Bill Horne said the city might lease out some of those spaces to beach businesses for employee parking. The Clearwater Beach Chamber of Commerce is calling for that.
When Paradise developer Michael Connor learned this recently, he was concerned that the city might undercut his private parking rates in the new garage.
He and the city hashed out a new agreement. Now it will be up to the developer whether the garage's bottom and top floors will be leased or hourly parking. Originally, 103 spaces on the top were to be leased, while 89 spaces on the bottom were to be reserved for workers and customers at Pelican Walk Plaza.
Contact Mike Brassfield at email@example.com or (727) 445-4151. Follow @MikeBrassfield.