A new and much-needed public parking garage for booming Clearwater Beach faces only one more hurdle: a City Council vote next month on a detailed development agreement now being discussed between the city and the developer. Opponents have failed to make a case for turning aside a solid opportunity for a long-sought public parking garage in the Mandalay Avenue retail and restaurant district. As the city finishes up negotiations, it should consider adding public restrooms to the project.
Last week, the Clearwater Community Development Board wisely approved the design for the 642-space garage. It would replace a 94-space surface parking lot on just under an acre of land behind Pelican Walk Plaza, which is a collection of retail shops and restaurants on the corner of Mandalay and Baymont Street. A garage has long been envisioned there, but the city's previous efforts to find private partners to develop the garage failed.
This time, a real player is in the picture. Paradise Group LLC of Safety Harbor wants to build the garage. Its owner is Michael Connor, who lives across Mandalay Avenue from Pelican Walk in the Sandpearl resort condominiums.
Under the plan presented at this month's CDB meeting, the new structure will have seven levels. The first floor will have 89 parking spaces for the Pelican Walk retailers and about 11,500 square feet of commercial space fronting Poinsettia Avenue, a north-south street just east of Mandalay. The top level of the garage will have just over 100 parking spaces that will be for the use of area businesses, perhaps for employee parking. The levels in between will have 450 public parking spaces that the city will own.
The garage could be a boon to the Poinsettia Avenue/Eastshore Drive area of the beach, which has been slow to attract the kind of redevelopment that has transformed other areas of the island. And it will ease the pressure on the new bars and restaurants that have opened on Mandalay Avenue but have no designated parking for their customers.
Opponents of the garage fought hard, even hiring their own engineer to attempt to rebut the developer's traffic studies that showed no dire traffic consequences if the garage were built. Among their complaints: The garage would be too tall for the neighborhood, it would draw more traffic to Clearwater Beach, it would heavily congest narrow Poinsettia and Baymont streets, it would clog the beach roundabout, it would be an ugly box with no landscaping.
Some opponents also complained that beachgoers, rather than shoppers, would park in the garage and would want to drop off their beach supplies and family members in a half-circle pedestrian drop-off at the public beach access across Mandalay between the Sandpearl and Mandalay Beach Club condo towers. One opponent said that since there is no public restroom at that access, beachgoers might be tempted to urinate on the condo tower landscaping.
It was difficult to take seriously the argument that the garage will be too tall for the neighborhood, when some of those opponents live in neighboring condo complexes that are taller. There is also no evidence that a parking garage causes heavier traffic congestion; on Clearwater Beach, the new garage may reduce the constant circling of motorists looking for a street parking space, thereby lessening congestion in the roundabout and on beach streets.
However, the city should consider the developer's offer to build public restrooms into the garage design if the city will pay for it. There is a serious shortage of public facilities along that stretch of Clearwater Beach. Restrooms in the new garage could serve both beachgoers and shoppers.
As Clearwater Beach is developing with new hotels and restaurants, surface parking lots are disappearing. It is essential to replace that parking so the redevelopment of the island can progress and Clearwater Beach can continue to be a magnet for tourists and locals alike.