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Clearwater City Council must be firm on beach garage traffic

The Clearwater City Council's decision, finally, on where to locate a public parking garage on Clearwater Beach no doubt is a relief to individual council members. But it should also quiet, for now, those who have lambasted the council for not acting sooner to relieve the beach parking crunch. However, the council's work is only half done. Now that it has settled on a location and a developer, the city needs to study how that location will affect traffic patterns on the beach and make any needed changes.

The 300-space parking garage will be built on S Gulfview Boulevard overlooking BeachWalk, immediately south of the Hyatt Aqualea Resort now under construction. It will be built on the site of the current Britt's Laguna Grill. Surf Style Retail Management, which owns the Britt's property, will pay to build the garage and will operate it. The first floor will contain a Britt's restaurant and a retail store, with four floors of public parking above. Parking rates have not yet been set.

The agreement the City Council plans to sign with Surf Style obligates the city financially only if the garage goes into foreclosure during its first five years of operation and Surf Style's lender exercises an option that would require the city to acquire the parking garage at a price of $9.3 million. If that happened, the price per parking space would amount to about $31,000, which is less per space than a competing developer intended to charge the city to build a garage that was a greater distance from the beach.

The location of the proposed garage couldn't be more convenient for beachgoers, since it is directly across S Gulfview Boulevard from the public beach. But the location has two potential downsides.

The first is that it is in a flood zone, so the owners' opportunity to put a restaurant and retail on the ground floor, which they say is essential to the deal, is not assured. The owners are seeking a new flood designation from FEMA based on their plan to erect an 18-inch-high wall in front of the building, but FEMA approval is far from assured. The city and Surf Style hope to have an answer in 90 days or so.

The second potential downside of the site is that it is next door to the Hyatt, where a 400-space public parking garage is under construction. Both garages will have their exits in the back of the buildings, on Coronado Drive. If both garages are full and large numbers of cars exit at the same time, a lot of vehicles could be trying to turn left across Coronado traffic to head toward the beach roundabout and leave the beach.

Several council members, particularly Carlen Petersen, are concerned that could create unsafe conditions on Coronado. Council member George Cretekos is pushing for the city to study making Coronado one-way, paired with a one-way Hamden Drive. That would lead to safer conditions for those exiting the parking garage, but Cretekos so far does not seem to have the support of his fellow council members.

Mayor Frank Hibbard has warned that merchants generally oppose one-way streets because they believe they reduce business. The city has demonstrated toughness in the face of merchant opposition in previous situations and should do the same now by pursuing a study of traffic patterns.

City policy is promoting resort development and inviting a lot of tourists to south beach. The council's priority should be to ensure that traffic will flow as smoothly and safely as possible throughout the south beach area.

Clearwater City Council must be firm on beach garage traffic 06/22/09 [Last modified: Monday, June 22, 2009 6:38pm]
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