Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Clearwater working on plan to fix East Gateway

Rick Bickel walks with his daughter, Shayna Bickel, and grandson Marc Bickel to a store on Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard.


Rick Bickel walks with his daughter, Shayna Bickel, and grandson Marc Bickel to a store on Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard.

CLEARWATER — The city will pay $68,000 for a "vision plan" of the East Gateway, the downtown neighborhood long linked with drugs, the homeless and seedy motels.

From this month through November, consultants will study ways to attract businesses. They'll survey neighbors for ideas and draw up a plan for the neighborhood's next two decades.

The City Council agrees that few areas need help like the East Gateway. For years, leaders have grappled with the rundown series of city blocks that welcome visitors to downtown. But how to do that, and how much to pay, remains a sticking point for the council, which debated the value of buying "vision." The study carries with it the risk of being unusable, leading Vice Mayor George Cretekos to tell city staffers that he's "troubled by the cost."

"My concern was we were going to have a study and put it on a shelf and not do anything with it," Cretekos said. "I could write a study that says, 'Clearwater would look nice if — .' That's why I got so frustrated."

The idea-only "study" has for some become a bad word. Council members say a $130,000 downtown study has gathered dust over the years with little to show for it. Council member John Doran has joked that the city should go study-free for a year, "to balance the budgets."

But city officials say this study will be just the next step for a neighborhood cleanup with a wide range and no end in sight.

In 2006, the city began a five-year plan to work on the area's safety, housing, economics and looks. Leaders planned a facade program to dress up storefronts; a police substation clamped down on crime.

In April the city scored a concrete victory by demolishing a rundown block around the Economy Inn at 1274 Cleveland St., a market for drugs and prostitutes and a symbol of the neighborhood's squalor. The city bought the land for $1.7 million last year, saying it would be ripe for redevelopment.

Once a center for social services, the recent closing of the neighborhood's Clearwater Homeless Intervention Project drew cheers from area homeowners. A dozen residents flocked to City Hall to protest WorkNet Pinellas' attempt to move into the neighborhood; the job-training office was rejected in February.

But what neighbors say is East Gateway's biggest obstacle, the St. Vincent de Paul soup kitchen, remains busy at the neighborhood's core. Council members suggested the soup kitchen might be open to a move. But if it stays, Doran said, "we can have plans this high and they won't make a whit of difference."

Maryce Garber, the president of the East Gateway Business and Neighbors Association, said she supported the study, adding the city should "do whatever they can to help us out." But the cost, she said, sounded high.

"They're not going to actually build us a new East Gateway. These are just thoughts and ideas," Garber said. "How much money does that take?"

Filling 175 acres on the eastern third of downtown, the East Gateway sits between Drew and Court streets and Highland and Missouri avenues. Before the building of the Clearwater Memorial Causeway, the neighborhood once held the roadway to the beach.

Its location gives it potential, mostly untapped. Mayor Frank Hibbard called it a "blank canvas." Among the neighborhood's more successful draws: the Saint Cecilia Interparochial Catholic School, the Nature's Food Patch market and a fledgling restaurant, Greektown Grille. The study could add to their ranks, the mayor said.

"When the economy completely turns around," Hibbard said, "you better be poised to take advantage of that."

In April, after receiving 18 bids for the study, the City Council chose Gensler, one of the country's largest architecture firms. The $68,000 will come from $1 million in unspent redevelopment money, outside the city's general fund.

"It's not going to be an immediate payback. It's not going to provide the magic wand that will solve the problems immediately," Cretekos said. "If this study brings more development, it will more than pay for itself."

Drew Harwell can be reached at (727) 445-4170 or

Clearwater working on plan to fix East Gateway 06/11/11 [Last modified: Saturday, June 11, 2011 2:47pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Chris Archer, 25,000 Cubs fans and Tampa Bay's painful truth

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The biggest ovation inside Tropicana Field on Tuesday night was not for Cubs manager Joe Maddon, who was returning for the first time since managing the Rays.

    "W" flags fly in the stands after the game between the Chicago Cubs and the Rays Tuesday at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. [WILL VRAGOVIC   |   Times]
  2. A rendering of the Bucs' indoor practice facility.
  3. Poorly assembled 'Lego Ninjago Movie' waters down Lego movie franchise


    Well, that didn't take long.

    After only three movies, the Lego franchise is already a shadow of its original self, less irreverent and go-for-broke bricky. The watering down of an ingenious formula comes with The Lego Ninjago Movie, the sort we expected all along from plastic construction toys.

    A scene from "The Lego Ninjago Movie." (Warner Bros.)
  4. Irma slows curbside trash service in Pasco


    Hurricane Irma brought a hiccup to twice-weekly curbside trash service in Pasco County.

Pasco officials are asking for patience about the slow pace of residential trash service from private haulers. In some areas, trash hasn't been collected since Friday, Sept. 8, because of the volume of waste left after Hurricane Irma.
  5. Clemson reunion for Bucs' Adam Humphries, Vikings' Mackensie Alexander


    Bucs receiver Adam Humphries will have a familiar face lining up against him Sunday when he's in the slot and the Vikings have Mackensie Alexander guarding him as their nickel defensive back.

    Bucs wide receiver Adam Humphries (10) makes a reception before being tackled by Chicago Bears defensive back Marcus Cooper (31) Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]