CLEARWATER — A path to a November vote on a new aquarium in downtown Clearwater appeared clear at Monday's City Council work session.
Afterward, though, residents of the high-end Water's Edge condominium tower, which would be next door to the proposed $160 million Clearwater Marine Aquarium, buttonholed the aquarium's chief operating officer, Frank Dame, and attorney Brian J. Aungst, peppering them with questions about noise, traffic and after-hours events.
The group, which didn't represent Water's Edge, said they wanted more details.
"I may support it, I may not support, but I want to know the details down here, " said Joe Corvino, lowering his hands below his waist.
"Not up here," he said as he fluttered his hands above his head.
Dame said the aquarium had provided Water's Edge residents with two presentations, but Corvino said those talks were too conceptual. What time would the delivery trucks arrive in the morning for the food court? How late would after-hours events go?
Dame said all those details remain to be ironed out. The design and engineering phase of the project hasn't started. He said Corvino and other Water's Edge residents should email or call him with any concerns.
The aquarium will be a good neighbor, Dame said, but he understands that projections that the aquarium will draw millions of tourists from around the world could lead neighbors to be skittish.
"If I were a Water's Edge resident, I would have the same concerns you do," Dame said.
"We need Water's Edge's support," added Aungst.
The question of whether to lease city-owned property that is west of Osceola Avenue, north of Pierce Street and south of Cleveland Street to the aquarium for up to 60 years will be put to voters in a Nov. 5 referendum.
Monday's council discussion was about how the city charter would need to be amended to allow the lease, which would require moving City Hall to a new location. Only voters can change the city charter. The aquarium will pay the costs for the referendum on the charter changes.
In the proposed ordinance that would enact the changes if voters approve, council members decided to replace a clause that said a new aquarium would "facilitate" downtown development to read that it would "promote" redevelopment for the entire city and spur tourism.
The ordinance would limit the size of the new aquarium to 250,000 square feet.
Another clause stating that the aquarium would promote public access to the waterfront caught Mayor George Cretekos' attention. The public would have access "for a fee," he said.
But the landscaped grounds would be free and it beats other alternatives, said council member Doreen Hock-DiPolito.
"I'd rather have an aquarium than a movie theater, that's for sure," she said.
If voters approve the referendum, the city tennis courts below City Hall would be relocated. The city hasn't decided where to put them yet.
The council is scheduled to vote on the final draft of the ballot language and charter changes at Thursday's regular meeting.
Charlie Frago can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4159. You can follow him on Twitter @CharlieFrago