Imagine Clearwater slows to a crawl as band shell redesign stalls entire project

LUIS SANTANA  |   Times Aerial of Clearwater's downtown waterfront. The roughly $50 million redesign is stalled while consultants go back to the drawing board for the performance bandshell elelment.
LUIS SANTANA | Times Aerial of Clearwater's downtown waterfront. The roughly $50 million redesign is stalled while consultants go back to the drawing board for the performance bandshell elelment.
Published Dec. 7, 2018

CLEARWATER — The design of the roughly $50 million waterfront redevelopment that is supposed to transform Clearwater's struggling downtown by 2021 was already months behind schedule. Elected officials still had not even determined how to pay for it all.

Now, almost two years after the City Council adopted Imagine Clearwater's conceptual plan, the council has not even decided on what the performance pavilion — a centerpiece of the 66 acre project — should look like.

The council on Monday punted the preliminary design for the band shell back to consultants for the second time in two months after a meeting to discuss the pavilion ended with no more specifics than it started with.

City Manager Bill Horne directed consultants to prepare renderings that show a band shell with larger back-of-house infrastructure to support world class performances and a canopy to cover 3,000 seats. But renderings with dimensions and specifics are exactly what Council member David Allbritton said he expected to see on Monday, eight weeks after the council sent the band shell design back to consultants the first time.

"I'm just mystified, I don't know what else to say," Allbritton said Thursday, so frustrated with the stagnation he said he wants the Imagine Clearwater leader, Assistant City Manager Micah Maxwell, off the project. "There was nothing new given to us (eight) weeks later. Something has to drastically change to get this done. It can't be limping along the way it is."

The delay on the band shell element has now forced final design work for the rest of Imagine Clearwater's 66 acres to slam to a halt as well. After the first discussion about redesigning the band shell Oct. 4, Maxwell said staff would write a work order for consultants to get started on the final design for the remainder of the project while the band shell was being reconsidered.

On Friday, engineering construction manager Tim Kurtz said it turned out it wasn't possible to finish designing surrounding components until the orientation of the band shell is finalized.

Mayor George Cretekos often points to how it took 40 years and six mayoral administrations before Tampa completed its Riverwalk in 2016. The project is so successful it beat Washington D.C.'s Navy Yards for a national planning award last month.

But Clearwater officials committed to a specific timeline: originally planned as a 10-year project, the council in May 2017 fast-tracked the schedule so that a new garden in what is now Coachman Park; a green for concerts where there is currently a parking lot; a lake under the Memorial Causeway; a half-mile Bluff Walk with shaded paths, gardens and terraces; and a gateway plaza with water features and event space at the corner of Cleveland Street and Osceola Avenue would all be completed by 2021.

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The only elements scheduled to stretch past 2021 are the redevelopment of the City Hall site into a hotel, condos or retail and the mixed-use project that will replace the Harborview Center in the heart of the plaza.

Stantec consultants were due to deliver Imagine Clearwater's preliminary design by April 27, according to its contract. The plans were not sent to the city until June 22. The plan outlined a band shell with modest backstage facilities and no crowd covering, a pavilion that's nearly identical to what exists today in Coachman Park.

But before Ruth Eckerd Hall CEO Zev Buffman retired in October, he adamantly declared the city was blowing its chance to build a gamechanging waterfront park with a more elaborate outdoor amphitheater that doesn't exist in Tampa Bay.

It prompted a philosophical discussion about what Imagine Clearwater was intended to be: a performance venue that also serves as a park, or a public greenspace that happens to host occasional performances. Maxwell, who was traveling and unavailable to comment for this article, said at Monday's meeting that any band shell larger than what is in the preliminary design would stray from the spirit of Imagine Clearwater that was created through months of community feedback in 2016.

It exposed a disconnect between staff's project leader and elected officials and a growing frustration about the pace Imagine Clearwater is falling into.

"(Maxwell) was entirely off base with that," Cretekos said. "I was disappointed because I don't think we were given enough information so we could give proper direction."

Horne however, said the second conceptual discussion about the band shell in two months was necessary to clarify a direction from the council about proceeding with a pavilion shifts from what was publicly vetted two years ago. He said he's confident there is a middle ground for a facility that can facilitate larger performances while not overpowering the greenspace for the public. But it's not going to be rushed.

"These designs are not something that's done overnight," Horne said.

Contact Tracey McManus at or (727) 445-4151. Follow @TroMcManus.