So, what's the top priority when you're building a massive concrete parking garage on a sandy strip of barrier island?
Stability. The top priority is stability.
That's why construction crews are driving a series of 136 anchors up to 54 feet down into the limestone beneath Clearwater Beach.
They'll soon start building a 344-space public parking garage along the BeachWalk promenade. It's scheduled to open in May. The long-awaited garage is supposed to ease parking problems during peak times on the beach.
To make way for it, crews recently demolished two businesses — Britt's Laguna Grill and a Surf Style retail store — in the 300 block of S Gulfview Boulevard.
Surf Style Retail Management, the company that's building the garage on its property, will put a new Britt's restaurant and Surf Style store into the structure's ground floor. Four levels of parking will rise above that.
Much of the garage will be assembled out of 60-foot-long precast concrete slabs. Vehicles will enter and exit from Coronado Drive. And the place will feature decorative touches like an indoor aquarium.
"The aquarium is going to be a cylindrical tube, 19 feet high. It will run right by an escalator in the center of the parking garage, between the two retail spaces," said Roger Jones, construction superintendent for Finfrock Inc., the contractor that's designing and assembling the garage.
But first the structure will need a solid foundation. That's where the 136 anchors come in.
"Stabilizing it is the biggest thing," said Jones, who adds that he's built 50 parking garages.
"We vibrate a casing into the ground, down to a prescribed depth. Here, it's 24 feet to 54 feet down," Jones said. "We drill everything out of the casing and make a hollow shaft. We lower a rebar cage down and fill the shaft with concrete from the bottom up."
For more than a decade, the city has wanted to put a parking garage on south Clearwater Beach. The job became more urgent a few years ago after the half-mile-long BeachWalk promenade wiped out hundreds of waterfront parking spaces along S Gulfview.
"I'm just relieved we're finally moving forward," said Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard. "Once this is complete, we will have parking back to pre-BeachWalk capacity."
Clearwater isn't spending any tax dollars on the garage. The city struck a deal last February with Surf Style, which will pay to build the garage itself. The company envisions the 344 parking spaces feeding customers into its ground-floor businesses, which will be larger versions of the businesses that just got demolished.
So how much will it cost to park in the new garage? That's yet to be determined. The city is requiring that parking rates be "comparable" with other beachfront locations.
The city-owned parking lots on Clearwater Beach charge 75 cents to $2 an hour, depending on the location and the time of year.
The new Hyatt Regency Resort that's just north of the Surf Style site has a 750-space garage, with 400 spaces open to the public. For nonguests, parking costs $2.75 an hour.
Mike Brassfield can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4160.