Clearwater has won a $1.2-million federal grant that will save the city more than $2-million as it builds the downtown boat slips voters recently approved.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved the grant - one of nine totaling $9.4-million awarded for "boating infrastructure." Clearwater, of the 32 cities that applied, was the only Florida city to receive a grant.
"It's a huge shot in the arm," Mayor Frank Hibbard said, "and it says a lot about the quality of the project."
The city plans to build 129 floating concrete boat slips, a promenade, boardwalk and fishing pier near Coachman Park. Rentals fees are expected to pay for much of the project and its operations. The slips also will offer some free mooring. Voters last month signed off on the project.The grant will be used to reduce the amount of money the city will borrow to finance the project.
The city had planned to borrow $10.95-million, a debt that is expected to cost $18.9-million to repay over 20 years.
Because of the grant, the city now plans to borrow just $9.64-million, with a total payback estimated at $16.6-million.
The city will still use $1-million in property tax money earmarked for downtown improvements to fund the project.
The money comes from taxes generated within the city's redevelopment district, which includes the area where the slips are proposed.
The city didn't figure the grant into the overall plan because "we didn't want any finger pointing if it didn't go through, said Finance Director Margie Simmons.
City leaders say the grant sends a message to the naysayers who argued that the project will cost too much and siphon from the general fund.
Still, some are not backing the project.
"I'm pleased for the sake of the people of Clearwater that the city has gotten the grant. That means we don't have to subsidize the boat slips as much as we thought," said Anne Garris, spokeswoman for Save the Bayfront, which opposed the plan.
To secure the grant, Clearwater had to prove at least $4-million of the project would benefit transient boaters, "the folks who travel from marina to marina, or access the downtown by water," said Bill Morris, the city's marine and aviation department director.
Such examples include side ties, restrooms and laundry facilities.
"This grant goes to show that there really is a lot of federal support for the boating industry and the importance of boating," Morris said.