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Now is the right time to build Clearwater Beach parking garage

John Doran has waited the better part of two decades for a public parking garage to be built on Clearwater Beach. Now, as both a resident and a City Council member, he is out of patience. "I want a parking garage … and I want it now," he said at Monday's City Council work session.

Doran's frustration is understandable. While many of the delays in the effort to build a beach garage have been valid, it is time for the City Council to get moving. Now, while property values are down and construction companies are eager for work, is the time to do a beach garage project.

After years of efforts that went nowhere, the city hired a real estate agent last year to try to assemble affordable property on south Clearwater Beach for a garage. He came up with several possibilities, but all of the sites were several blocks from the beach.

Nevertheless, the City Council was preparing to move forward on one of those sites when the city learned that a landowner across the street from the sand was interested in partnering with the city on a 500-space public garage. The location on the city's new Beach Walk was too good to pass up, so City Council members decided to pursue it.

In recent weeks the city has been negotiating a complex deal with that landowner, Surf Style Retail Management, and getting appraisals of the property, which is on Gulfview Boulevard beside the new Hyatt hotel. However, the two sides are about $3 million apart. The problem is in the structure of the deal, not the overall value. Officials said the city can't pay as much in the first phase of garage construction as Surf Style wants. Unless Surf Style can finance that portion, the deal could fall apart.

Doran pushed for a quick decision from Surf Style.

"If they're not the ones, I want to move on to the next one," Doran said, pointing out that the city has the money in its parking fund to get started on a garage project now.

Council members directed the staff to try to get an answer from Surf Style by tonight's regular council meeting, but they didn't hold out much hope that the question could be thoroughly vetted and resolved so quickly.

It would be great to have a big public parking garage so close to the beach, so the city may want to wait just a few more weeks to see if the financing question can be answered with finality. But with the months and years slipping by, Doran and the council are right to set an aggressive schedule that doesn't allow the Surf Style negotiations to drag on.

Now is the right time to build Clearwater Beach parking garage 02/04/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 4, 2009 7:41pm]
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