CLEARWATER — The city may begin to pick up steam on its ambitious downtown development project. It may not.
But one thing was clear at a City Council work session Tuesday: The person now charge of Imagine Clearwater brings a new style.
Since the City Council fast-tracked the project in 2017, Imagine Clearwater has been delayed by political and logistical indecision. Michael Delk, the interim assistant city manager who recently assumed responsibility for the $50 million project, is looking to change that.
On Tuesday, Delk laid out a series of short-term objectives that he said could advance the project quickly.
Delk wants to push the council to develop a request for proposals for the former Harborview site downtown in time for a 2020 citizen referendum. In other words, Delk wants voters to see a developer's vision for the downtown space next year.
“That’s going to be an aggressive schedule,” Delk told the council Tuesday. “But I think if we are diligent, we could possibly make that happen.”
Delk also said he believes the city can begin construction on certain parts of the project while others are worked out.
For instance, Council member David Allbritton said, it’s possible to lay the groundwork for the proposed downtown concert venue before the logistics of the roof are finalized.
Imagine Clearwater is slated to include a new garden in what is now Coachman Park; the concert venue and green where there is currently a parking lot; a lake under the Memorial Causeway; a half–mile Bluff Walk with shaded paths, gardens and terraces; a gateway plaza with water features and event space at the corner of Cleveland Street and Osceola Avenue; and mixed use developments on the former Harborview site and the currently vacant City Hall.
Not all of Delk’s ideas would necessarily speed up the project. He said Tuesday that he plans to recommend the council hold off on demolishing the former City Hall so Clearwater can conduct an architectural review of the space. (He wants similar reviews done on North Ward Elementary school and the old fire station on Franklin Street.)
Albritton said even if he didn’t necessarily agree with Delk on everything — Albritton wants to see the old City Hall demolished — he was excited by Delk’s decisiveness.
“He has a real understanding of planning and building,” Albritton said. “I’m so glad he’s at the helm now.”
Assistant City Manager Micah Maxwell had previously headed the city's Imagine Clearwater planning. But after the departure of Deputy City Manager Jill Silverboard, Maxwell was promoted, handing the reins of Imagine Clearwater to Delk.
In an interview, Delk said that his firm approach could be attributed to his decades of experience as a community planner. Before his current title, he was Clearwater's Planning and Development Director. But Delk downplayed the idea that Imagine Clearwater had languished under Maxwell’s leadership.
Delk noted that he would still need Maxwell’s help because Maxwell is the new leader of key city departments like engineering, budgeting and finance.
“A lot of this is a team effort,” Maxwell agreed.
Delk also said Imagine Clearwater was not the only important part of Clearwater's reinvention. He’s also pushing for the city to move forward with its library enhancement plan, and for it to move on lighting the Memorial Causeway at night.
Mayor George Cretekos said in an interview that he’s happy about the prospect of the city taking more consistent action.
“We’ve done a lot of talking,” Cretekos said.
Some other news and notes from Tuesday's budget work session:
• The city approved spending about $3.6 million to bring city staffer pay up to market levels. The decision came at the recommendation of a consultant, Public Sector Personnel Consultants, which studied salaries in all city departments, excluding fire and police.
• Finance Director Jay Ravins presented projections that show that under current spending and tax rates, the city may fail to set aside its mandatory 8.5 percent in annual budget reserves come 2027. Property tax rates may have to go up then.
Contact Kirby Wilson at [email protected] or (727) 893-8793. Follow @kirbywtweets.