Following a recent vote by the City Council, negotiations are under way between the City of Clearwater and a Clearwater Beach property owner that could result in hundreds of public parking spaces a stone's throw from the sand. But the vote to proceed to negotiations was not unanimous.
Four council members voted to enter talks with Surf Style Retail Management, owner of the familiar Britt's restaurant on S Gulfview Boulevard. The owner plans to redevelop his property and build a six-story, 500-space parking garage. Surf Style wants the city to buy 300 parking spaces on the bottom four floors for $13-million, and in 2014 buy the remaining 200 spaces for $5-million.
One council member, Carlen Petersen, voted against proceeding with negotiations. Surf Style's property is immediately south of the Hyatt hotel that is under construction. The Hyatt will have 400 public spaces in its garage, and Petersen believes the two projects concentrate too much parking in one spot on the beach and leave the rest of the beach underserved.
Petersen's point is well taken. Ideally, public parking facilities would be scattered along the full length of the popular public beach. But the city has not been able to achieve ideal circumstances and has little choice but to explore Surf Style's proposal to see if a deal that works for the city can be struck.
City officials have struggled for years to obtain affordable land for a public garage anywhere on the island, or even to cement productive partnerships with landowners who said they wanted to build garages. Nothing seemed to work.
However, doors recently began to open, no doubt the result of declining land values, a struggling economy and the City Council's decision to hire a real estate agent to assemble property. The agent was able to put together several possible parcels, but they were well off the beach, generally located between Coronado and Hamden avenues. Users of those garages would have to walk several blocks to reach the sand and would have to cross both Coronado and S Gulfview. Those locations were better than nothing, but not ideal.
Then, the Surf Style option arose. That property is on the east side of S Gulfview, right on Beach Walk. Users of a garage there would merely have to cross S Gulfview to get to the sand. They would be close to the pier, Pier 60 Park, and the shops and restaurants on south beach that are only going to draw more business as Beach Walk gets more popular.
Best of all, a garage on the Surf Style property would not obstruct the view of the Gulf of Mexico. Some people on the beach and in city government had suggested that the best spot for a new garage was a current city-owned surface parking lot on the west side of S Gulfview, right on the sand. A garage there would be obtrusive. And why put a garage on the sand, when the city built Beach Walk to get public parking off the sand and improve the view and access to one of the best urban beaches in America?
If the Surf Style deal comes through, perhaps one day the city could close even that surface parking lot and finally remove all parking from the west side of that section of S Gulfview. What a lovely difference that would make.