The city of Clearwater is putting out a call to developers interested in redeveloping the site on the downtown waterfront where the Harborview Center sits now.
But I'd like to know what those of you reading this column want to see there.
A movie theater? A museum? A hotel or shops or restaurants? Green space? Some of all of that?
There is no disputing that the best property downtown is this city-owned 3.18 acres on the northwest corner of Cleveland Street and Osceola Avenue. It's big. It's visible. It has a spectacular view of Clearwater Harbor and the barrier islands.
And its value is only going to increase after the city builds 129 boat slips, a fishing pier and a promenade where the Harborview property meets the water.
Recognizing the property's value as well as the age of the Harborview structure, City Council members have begun talking about how the property should be used in the future. Some city officials have said they would like to see a new commercial mixed-use project there to attract people to downtown. They don't want to sell the property, just lease it. So they are inviting developers interested in that kind of deal to share their ideas.
Any project built there would have to clear a lot of hurdles first. The biggest would be a public referendum, tentatively scheduled for March 2010. But before that, the city plans to meet with developers who respond to the call, decide which ideas appeal to them most, put together some focus groups to vet those ideas, hold public meetings and select a developer.
The Harborview Center has inspired controversy from the beginning. It used to be a Maas Brothers department store with a leaky roof and other structural problems. When the department store closed, the city decided to buy the 33-year-old building. At first, the city planned to tear it down. Then in 1994, a majority of the then-City Commission led by Fred Thomas decided to convert it to a trade center. Thomas promised it would become a "giant cash register" for the city.
That, it never was. The building just didn't work well as a trade center, but two businesses that lease space in the structure, Stein Mart and Pickles Plus Too Deli, have done well. The center's big meeting rooms and trade center floor have been more regularly utilized for community activities and meetings than for conventions. The city has kept the building open with regular infusions of cash.
With the Stein Mart lease scheduled to expire next year, city officials see an opportunity to eventually divest themselves of a white elephant and get rid of the expansive Harborview parking lot that mars the otherwise green look of the waterfront.
They would like to see something built there that fits more appropriately with the architecturally significant Main Library next door and Coachman Park, where outdoor events like the Clearwater Jazz Holiday are held.
However, some residents have grown to like having what amounts to a community center downtown. They don't want to lose it. Others have suggested that the property should be turned into an extension of Coachman Park.
What's your big idea for the Harborview property?
If you'd like to share your ideas with other readers, please put them in a letter to the editor by going to our Web site at
www.tampabay.com/letters, or mail them to Letters, St. Petersburg Times, 710 Court St., Clearwater, FL 33756.
Diane Steinle can be reached at [email protected]