It's a 200-foot-long piece of smooth concrete that juts into a waterway. Why shouldn't it be used for fishing? That is the legitimate question being asked by local anglers who have discovered the new promenade on Clearwater's downtown waterfront. And some of them aren't likely to be satisfied by the city's answer: Fishing is not allowed on the promenade because it wasn't designed for that. Hence, the city's recent posting of a "No Fishing" sign on what looks for all the world like a fishing pier.
The promenade is the first finished piece in a package of improvements planned on the waterfront near Coachman Park. The package consists of the promenade extending out into Clearwater Harbor, 127 boat slips, a dockmaster's office with restrooms, new landscaping and a fishing pier. But the only item finished is the promenade. Sometime during the summer, the dockmaster's office and fishing pier should be completed. And by the end of the year, the city expects the boat slips to be done. Voters approved the project in a 2007 referendum.
The 32-foot-wide promenade was finished quickly because it is essentially a concrete slab built on the preserved pilings of the old Memorial Causeway Bridge. When city officials were planning improvements to the waterfront, they decided it would be nice to provide a way for people without boats to get "on" the water. A pedestrian promenade extending over the water was envisioned, and when the old bridge was torn down, the pilings were saved for that purpose.
Perhaps city officials didn't consider that people would want to turn their nifty pedestrian amenity into a fishing pier. Anglers already are using it, but they are being told that fishing there is illegal. There is no running water on the promenade and no place for people to cut bait or clean fish, said one city official. The promenade was designed to be a community gathering place, not a fishing pier, said another.
The problem is that the finished promenade looks like a fishing pier. It has a few benches, trash cans and old-fashioned lampposts, but that's it. It is so bare that it seems to need the clutter of bait buckets and fishing poles and ice chests that accompany pier fishermen.
As long as the promenade looks like this, people will continue to view it as a perfect fishing pier and the city will have to run them off or worse, ticket them for fishing. The promenade needs to be dressed up to fulfill its function as a pedestrian amenity. Colorful banners and flags, artwork, planters and perhaps a food cart would help proclaim the promenade's purpose and send a subtle clue to anglers that they should go to the real fishing pier once it is finished or to one of the other fishing spots in the vicinity.
Since the city is low on cash, dressing up the promenade would be a great project for downtown merchant organizations, civic groups and Scouts. The city could focus on organizing events that would draw pedestrians to the promenade. For example, Clearwater Beach has the successful Sunsets at Pier 60, so maybe Sunsets at the Promenade could be held on different days.
If the downtown promenade is to be anything other than a concrete perch for fisherman and an occasional walker, it needs to be an attractive beacon on the waterfront.