Officials come up with a cost for Imagine Clearwater: $62 million

Planned improvements to the downtown waterfront on Clearwater Harbor are shown in this 2018 rendering of Imagine Clearwater. On Monday, the City Council heard the first detailed cost estimate for the project: $62 million. [Courtesy of Stantec]
Planned improvements to the downtown waterfront on Clearwater Harbor are shown in this 2018 rendering of Imagine Clearwater. On Monday, the City Council heard the first detailed cost estimate for the project: $62 million. [Courtesy of Stantec]
Published July 15, 2019

Imagine Clearwater officially has a price tag: $62 million.

That's how much money the city is planning to spend on its ambitious redevelopment of the downtown waterfront. The figure covers improvements to Coachman Park and the surrounding area, formal calls for developers to transform major city-owned waterfront properties, and substantial renovations to the downtown public library.

At a City Council work session Monday, city Finance Director Jay Ravins detailed for the first time how the city planned to pay for its signature civic project. Clearwater plans to use money from its general fund and from Penny for Pinellas, the county sales tax that funds long-term infrastructure projects.

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It will also use proceeds from the sale of its waterfront properties, including the former Harborview site and the old City Hall site, to pay for the downtown improvements. The Pinellas County Property Appraiser values those properties at $14.7 and $17.2 million, respectively.

But all of that could still leave the city short of its target by millions, Ravins said. Clearwater could borrow the money from one of its own internal funds or from an outside source. The city figures it will have to spend about $2 million a year in debt payments for several years, Ravins said.

Interim assistant city manager Michael Delk cautioned that all the numbers are subject to change, depending on construction costs.

Ravins' breakdown was a major step for Clearwater, which had long budgeted the project at about $55 million — before approving an additional $6 million in library renovations last month — without offering details on where the money would come from.

"This is the first time I saw the actual breakdown of how they're doing it," council member David Allbritton said in an interview.

In addition to the library improvements, Imagine Clearwater is slated to include a new garden in what is now Coachman Park; a 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 and City Hall sites.

Last week, several members of Clearwater's Downtown Development Board criticized the city's recent decision to move ahead with its plans for the library.

Since it was fast-tracked by the city in 2017, Imagine Clearwater has been subject to multiple delays. Some on the development board, which advises the city on downtown economics, saw the city's efforts to move full steam ahead with its library plans as $6 million window dressing.

"To show progress to the public, I believe we need to clear the sites and start building new structures instead of improving an already-good building," Vice Chairman Venkat "Vincent" Devineni said at the board's meeting last Wednesday.

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Besides, Devineni said, the city hasn't shown it has a way to pay for the library improvements.

The development board voted to write a letter recommending that the city tear down the old City Hall so it could begin advertising the site for redevelopment.

The city's presentation Monday was part explanation, part response to critics on the development board. Delk said tearing down the old City Hall building without first assessing the value of the structure would do the city no good. In June, the city voted to pay a consultant $100,000 to update its economic analysis of Clearwater-owned downtown properties.

But development board member Thomas Wright remained frustrated by that explanation, arguing in an interview that "the city delays everything."

Delk said the council will vote Thursday on a $5.6 million work order for Imagine Clearwater's park redesign. Progress is happening, he argued.

Mayor George Cretekos said Monday that Imagine Clearwater delays happen when the city changes its mind.

Clearwater has already set the project in motion, beginning with the library refurbishments, Cretekos argued. "We can't go back and revisit and revisit and revisit because we will never get anything done."

Contact Kirby Wilson at (727) 893-8793 or Follow @kirbywtweets.