Clearwater City Council members withstood pressure from some angry neighbors last week when they approved a deal for a parking garage in the booming Mandalay Avenue retail district of Clearwater Beach. It was the right decision.
Many of the shops and restaurants have no dedicated parking, so patrons and employees must circle the beach looking for a space, which causes more traffic congestion. The lack of a public garage also has slowed redevelopment in the nearby Eastshore district along the Intracoastal Waterway.
The city is partnering with Paradise Group LLC of Safety Harbor on the garage project. City government has waited almost 15 years for the right garage partner — ever since its redevelopment plan for Clearwater Beach, Beach By Design, was approved.
The garage approved by the council will be built on the spot that city planners predicted 15 years ago: a surface parking lot on Poinsettia Avenue, behind the Pelican Walk shopping plaza that fronts on Mandalay Avenue.
In that location, the garage will serve not only the Mandalay retail strip, but also help spark redevelopment of Poinsettia and a parallel side street, Eastshore Drive. Those two streets, long home to mom and pop motels, have undersized lots not big enough for onsite parking. The Eastshore district is the only area that has not seen rebirth since Beach By Design was implemented.
Under the development agreement approved last week, Paradise will build and operate the seven-story garage, which will be open 24 hours a day and have 642 parking spaces and almost 11,500 square feet of new retail space facing Poinsettia. It is expected to open in 2015. Sometime in 2016, the city will spend $11.3 million to buy 450 of the parking spaces from Paradise. The city's parking fund, not tax dollars, will cover that purchase.
City officials say they plan to offer monthly leases to employees of beach businesses, because a dearth of employee parking has been a huge problem on the beach. The city expects most of the garage will be occupied by beach employees and patrons of nearby businesses, rather than by beachgoers.
But they acknowledge the need for more parking for beachgoers on the north end of the beach. In fact, talk about building another garage closer to the water, perhaps at Mandalay Park in the Rockaway area, already has begun.
Some residents who live in condo complexes close to the planned Pelican Walk garage said it will be ugly, will make traffic congestion worse and will be too big for the neighborhood. City Council members listened to their arguments through several meetings, but pointed out that those residents moved into condos built in an area zoned Tourist, at one of the most popular beaches in Florida. Council member Doreen Hock-DiPolito said the community needs to understand that "this is the beginning."
"This is a place that's going to be full," she predicted.
City officials 15 years ago developed a plan for growing Clearwater Beach. Today's officials would be irresponsible if they didn't plan for managing the growth that has resulted. Building adequate parking has to be a part of that plan.