Clearwater city officials are confronting this dismal economy and refusing to back down from their vision for a better downtown. It is no surprise that some people are calling them foolish, while others are applauding their courage.
For now, put us on the applauding side. It takes some grit to stick to your game plan when others about you are panicking. As long as city officials do their homework and proceed cautiously, now may be a very good time for them to invest in one-of-a-kind opportunities.
Last week, despite some criticism, City Council members voted to purchase the historic Royalty Theatre, formerly known as the Capital Theatre, so it can be transformed into a downtown performing arts venue.
The critics argued that this is not the right time to invest in non-essentials, particularly when the city is laying off staff and reducing library hours.
However, council members reasoned that now, while the theater is in foreclosure and property values are depressed, is a good time to buy. They feared that if they didn't buy the Royalty now, someone else might and would tear it down rather than preserve it.
They also were enthusiastic about the opportunity to share the costs with Ruth Eckerd Hall, which has wanted to get its hands on the Royalty for years. The city will spend $2.3-million to buy the Royalty and an adjoining shop and lease the property to Ruth Eckerd Hall, which will raise $8-million to renovate the structures and create an endowment to cover the costs of operating the performing arts theater.
The City Council also is attracting critics of its plans to proceed with a $12.8-million boat slip project on the Intracoastal Waterway near Coachman Park. The project was approved by voters in a referendum, and the city is in the process of completing design and securing permits from county, state and federal authorities.
Some of those now speaking up against the project live in the Pierce 100 condominiums, which jut out into the Intracoastal Waterway just south of the Memorial Causeway Bridge. They say the boat slips will be too close to them and create too much noise and boat traffic, but they lost their campaign to stop the project at the city board level.
Other critics of the project argue that the economy is so bad the city will not be able to rent the 127 slips and the project will not be self-supporting as promised. These critics point out that only one person has sent in the required $500 deposit to reserve a slip, even though January is the deadline. They urge the city to cancel the project.
The boat slips remain a good project for downtown for the same reasons that existed when the city and the voters approved them.
If early next year the number of deposits has not picked up, the city could consider temporarily delaying the start of construction or building the project in phases if necessary.
The nation's economy eventually will rebound. City officials know that, and they are taking the long view. Continuing to invest in making Clearwater a more vibrant, attractive city is the right call for now.