Beach parking is a monkey that the Clearwater City Council can't get off its back. For years, officials have sought locations for public parking garages on Clearwater Beach, and for the past year, the City Council has intensively searched for locations and partners. Every promising lead has led to disappointment. The council is so frustrated and divided that, on Monday, City Manager Bill Horne suggested they should just stop trying for now.
That's the wrong approach. More parking is desperately needed at peak times on the beach. The City Council needs to abandon the effort to build one big public garage and accept that it must address the problem incrementally. And it needs to get a project under way soon.
It is time for the council to consider building a parking deck at Pier 60.
In recent years this newspaper has opposed using beachfront land for parking. The public has as well. A 1999 proposal for a massive, 1,000-space Pier 60 parking garage was roundly criticized; city officials have avoided the Pier 60 option ever since.
However, one of several good reasons to reconsider is that a much worse location for a garage now is being promoted by two City Council members, who need just one more vote to make it happen. That location is also on the beachfront, but in a much more obtrusive location.
City Council members Paul Gibson and George Cretekos suggest building a multistory parking garage on a city-owned surface parking lot that is on the beach side of S Gulfview Boulevard, just north of the property where the Adam's Mark hotel once stood. They have several reasons for choosing that location. Since the city owns the property, it wouldn't have to deal with a developer and the cost would be lower. Construction could start almost immediately.
But examine the photograph that appears with this editorial. The asphalt parking lot on which Gibson and Cretekos want to build the garage is visible at the bottom center of the photo. It is immediately apparent that, except for a small beach concession stand, there is no other building on the sand on the entire length of the beach.
Furthermore, there are no other parking facilities on the beach side of S Gulfview Boulevard. It wasn't always that way. Parking lots that once lined the entire south beachfront were removed so the city could build the new, curving S Gulfview Boulevard and its associated pedestrian amenity, Beach Walk. At a cost of millions of dollars, Beach Walk has opened up the beachfront to pedestrians and motorists and spectacularly enlarged the view of dunes, sand and surf. How could any city official propose plunking a big parking structure between Beach Walk and the gulf? Instead, when more parking is available, the city should work toward removing that existing surface lot and creating an inviolate strip of sand from Clearwater Pass to Caladesi Island.
The three remaining council members have resisted their colleagues' proposal, but they have their own ideas driven by the pressure to meet parking demands. John Doran and Carlen Petersen propose building a garage as soon as possible at the Clearwater Beach city marina. However, the challenging marina location is better suited for a master-planned, public-private redevelopment venture. And commercial businesses at the marina still have two years left on their leases.
Mayor Frank Hibbard favors neither of those plans but proposes to wait and see if the city can partner with the owner of Britt's, a business on Beach Walk next door to the rising Hyatt Aqualea Resort. Britt's owner wants to redevelop his property with ground-floor retail and five floors of public parking but has run into a snag because of flood zone rules. It is a great location for parking, but it could be several years before a garage opens there, if at all.
The best and quickest option, we believe, is to add one deck of parking to the existing parking lot at Pier 60.
The centrally located Pier 60 lot serves both south beach and the Mandalay Avenue retail district. It is easy to enter and exit. It is conveniently close to the sand, yet it does not extend out onto the beach. In fact, another examination of the aerial photograph demonstrates that the Pier 60 lot is right in line with all the other waterfront development overlooking Clearwater Beach. There is no motorists' view of the gulf to be disrupted by an additional deck of parking at Pier 60 — the view from the street already is blocked by cars in the existing lot, a concession building and playground. Adding only one deck would provide new spaces without creating a massive structure.
The city engineer estimates that one deck of parking would add 90 or so spaces to the existing 150. That would not solve Clearwater Beach's parking problem, but it would help. And by the time the deck was finished, the Hyatt resort with its 400 public parking spaces could be open, the Britt's plan could have taken form, and, with an improving economy, a potential partner for redevelopment of the marina could have appeared.
Years of city effort have proven that the beach parking problem cannot be fixed with one big parking garage, but it must be addressed by building smaller projects that add spaces all around the island. With every project, the city's goal must be to preserve the white sands and water views that keep the crowds coming to Clearwater Beach.