The city is looking for a master designer to help create a block-by-block redevelopment plan for downtown and the beach, then recruit businesses there.
It's a new tactic for Clearwater, a city that often has hired consultants and talked about redevelopment, but never sought a company to tackle the overall task.
The company will base its redevelopment plan on what it thinks the market will support and on vague concepts it gathers from city officials and residents.
The company also will serve as the chief consultant for Clearwater's entire redevelopment plan called "One City. One Future." That plan includes the beach, downtown, Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard and North Greenwood.
"What we're hiring is expertise," said Rick Hedrick, assistant city manager for capital projects. "We're past the concept stage. Now we've got to get to the design stage."
The city has been working on "One City. One Future" since City Manager Mike Roberto arrived last summer. Residents have not seen many physical improvements yet, but in the past few months the city has worked to spread the word about the plan, continue planning and figure out who it needs to hire.
The city started designing a new marina downtown, researching the economic impact of the Philadelphia Phillies and finishing some quick fixes on Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard, such as painting fire hydrants and landscaping city buildings.
In the next couple of months, the City Commission will hire an architect for the new main library, review plans for Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard and decide which projects to pay for with the Penny for Pinellas sales tax.
But the biggest step so far has been to advertise for a master designer who will be responsible for encouraging redevelopment downtown and on the beach for at least the next three years.
Hiring a master designer would be a big move for Clearwater, but it also is considered a cautious step.
The city toyed with hiring a master developer to recruit businesses as well as buy land and construct buildings for them. After watching cities like St. Petersburg run into trouble with developers, Clearwater decided to scale back the responsibilities it would give to a private company.
"We want the city to act as the master developer instead," Hedrick said. "We think it's in the city's interest to retain control."
In Clearwater, no single company will be in charge of development. Instead, the city would eventually entertain proposals from numerous developers after a redevelopment plan is finished.
Some people familiar with St. Petersburg's problems call Clearwater's plan a conservative approach, but one that may work.
"To the extent that St. Petersburg had a negative experience, I wouldn't be negative to (Clearwater's) attempts to hold onto control," said County Commissioner Bob Stewart, a former City Council member in St. Petersburg.
In the late 1980s, St. Petersburg hired a company, Bay Plaza, as a master developer for downtown. It acquired land and built a parking garage but was never able to lure retailers downtown as expected.
By 1995, the deal came apart. Both the city and Bay Plaza each ended up sinking $25-million into the failed project.
Hedrick said cities across the nation have gotten into trouble with master developers because they entered into deals with companies that lost money on construction or misread the market and were unable to find tenants.
Rick Dodge, county economic development director and former St. Petersburg city administrator, says he supports Clearwater's efforts, but redevelopment may take longer because the city is taking on a bigger job.
Dodge said Clearwater has conducted studies and created plans for years and that taking any action, even if it is conservative, is important.
"Retaining control is very appropriate," Dodge said. "I think at this point it's the most important thing they can do and I'm sure it's of comfort to citizens."
Dodge and St. Petersburg City Council Chairwoman Bea Griswold said most cities like St. Petersburg start out the way Clearwater is, then decide later to hire one developer to complete one piece of redevelopment.
"This is the first step," Griswold said. "Eventually, they're going to attract a developer that likes their plan. And then they'll decide whether to take the next step."
Clearwater began advertising for a master designer this month and plans to accept responses from companies until May 19.
So far, the city has sent additional information about the request to eight companies with offices in Florida. Two are not interested.
Hedrick said city staffers expect to ask the City Commission to vote on a company in June. It will take the company three to four months to finish a plan for the beach and downtown.
"One City. One Future."
In addition to hiring a master designer for downtown and the beach, the city is working on aspects of the "One City. One Future" plan.
City staffers are discussing what incentives to offer businesses that relocate downtown and is writing grant applications to pay for a pond downtown and Cleveland Street improvements.
Roberto said the city also is getting ready to hire a company to conduct a market study for the beach, an architect for a main library and an engineer to help design the Memorial Causeway bridge replacement.
Hedrick said improvements may begin on Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard before any other area because the city is trying to coordinate efforts with the state, which plans to resurface the road this summer.
But the city decided not to wait to make all the improvements and went ahead and held cleanup days and painted overpasses at U.S. 19 and Bayside Bridge. The city also plans to spend $200,000 of state money to replace overhead traffic signals and landscape the wastewater treatment plant.
Hedrick said an Orlando-based consultant hired by the city expects to finish a draft of a redevelopment plan for Gulf-to-Bay by May 7. The City Commission will review a plan with time and cost estimates in June.
The North Greenwood plan is not as far along as the other plans because it was brought last into "One City. One Future."
In the past few months, the city hired a consulting company to create a redevelopment plan. The consultants held a meeting with residents and city staffers plan to hold a second one within a month.
The city expects to have a new plan based on an old University of South Florida plan within 45 days.
+ Sought companies to become the city's master designer.
+ Considered incentives for businesses relocating downtown.
+ Planning expansion of existing marina, second marina downtown.
+ Held a public forum on state program to improve Cleveland Street.
+ Commission to hire a library architect in May.
+ Commission to hire a master designer in June.
+ Finish grant application to help pay for a pond downtown.
+ Hired consulting company to create a redevelopment plan.
+ Began researching economic impact of Philadelphia Phillies.
+ Held public meeting that turned into a complaint session.
+ Met with 15 residents, decided to base new plan on an old one.
+ Meet again with residents to explain plan.
+ Complete an overall plan with time and cost estimates in 45 days.
+ Painted fire hydrants, landscaped buildings such as Welcome Center.
+ Volunteers picked up trash.
+ Commited $200,000 to replace overhead traffic signals.
+ Painted overpasses at U.S. 19 and the Bayside Bridge.
+ Formed a task force to study segment near Cleveland Street.
+ Landscape wastewater treatment plant this month.
+ First draft of roadway's redevelopment by May 7.
+ Commission-level review of a plan with time and cost estimates.
+ Sought companies for master designer.
+ Hire company to conduct market study for the beach.
+ Hire company to help design Memorial Causeway bridge.
Companies that received information about Clearwater's request for a master designer:
+ Siemon Larsen & Marsh: Founded in 1983 and now based in Boca Raton. Has a team of nine planners and attorneys that specializes in land development. The city hired the company last year to rewrite its Land Development Code.
+ Justice Corp.: Created in 1972 and based in Clearwater. Specializes in the leasing, management, development, consulting and sale of office and commercial properties. The city has been negotiating with Justice Corp. since January when the company's client, Information Management Resources software company, offered to buy the former City Hall annex site for its headquarters.
+ HDR Inc.: Involved in engineering, architecture, planning and economic development. HDR has headquarters in Omaha, Neb., but has 48 offices and 1,700 employees around the nation. It opened an office in Tampa in 1974. The city hired HDR to help it design the Memorial Causeway bridge replacement.
+ Berryman and Henigar: The 27-year-old company specializes in engineering, surveying, planning, developing, transportation and landscape architecture. It has headquarters in San Diego and Crystal River but has offices in Tampa and Orlando. Berryman and Henigar has 300 employees.
+ Genesis Group Inc.: Has offices in Tampa, is involved in surveying, urban design, planning, engineering, transportation and architecture. Genesis, which was formed in 1986, has 112 employees.
+ LaRue Planning: Located in Fort Myers, has four employees and specializes in planning, organization development, training and economic development. A former county administrator from Lee County started the company 10 years ago. Its clients only include local governments and non-profit organizations.