CLEARWATER — Once again, the City Council is grappling with the question of where to build a public parking lot on Clearwater Beach, but now its top two choices appear to be last-minute offers that weren't even on the table a month ago.
Council members debated the issue at length Monday but couldn't reach an agreement.
One potential deal is with developer Avi Ovaknin, president of Surf Style Retail Management, who would build a six-story garage on land he owns just south of the Hyatt Aqualea condo-hotel that's under construction. Ovaknin first offered to lease this proposed 300-space garage to the city but now would be willing to sell it.
Council members like the location — right on Beach Walk — but they don't like the $16.6-million price that the city would pay over 20 years.
"Any way you slice it, these are expensive parking spaces," said Mayor Frank Hibbard.
A second offer came out of the blue Monday — an enticing new version of a deal that fell through last year. It involves an acre of land owned by Lucca Development a couple of blocks from the beach on Fifth Street between Hamden and Coronado drives.
As recently as December, the city had wanted to erect a garage there, but that deal didn't work out. Now the property is going into foreclosure. Lucca's lender just contacted the city offering to sell it for $4.9-million — and that's before negotiations.
The city just looked at a similar parcel on Coronado and calculated it would pay less than $13-million over 20 years to buy the land and build a 300-space garage.
One thing became clear Monday: If the city ends up putting a garage on Coronado and not paying extra to build one closer to the beach, then council members prefer the Lucca property over two other parcels on Coronado that they were strongly considering just a few weeks ago. Both of those other locations are south of Third Street and north of Brightwater Drive, and beachgoers who parked there would have to walk farther out of their way to get to the sand.
"If we had to stay on Coronado, the Lucca property is the best," said council member Carlen Petersen.
Council member John Doran compared the cost of the Surf Side option right by the beach with the other options: "Is it worth approximately 20 percent more to be on the west side of Coronado?" he asked.
Council members are torn. On one hand, they're eager to get a deal done for a much-needed garage. On the other hand, they've been dealing with this problem for at least a decade and are willing to wait a little longer if it means getting the best deal.
They'll take up the issue again at their Thursday night meeting. They hope to narrow down their choices and begin negotiating.
"There's no silver bullet here," Hibbard said. "We're going to have to eat this elephant one bite at a time."
Mike Brassfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4160.