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'This is not a new complaint': How Clearwater is working to address its downtown parking challenge

A car on the south side of Cleveland Street at Osceola Avenue on Tuesday in downtown Clearwater. That block of Cleveland Street, which ends at Fort Harrison Avenue, provides 16 short term metered parking spaces, at left and right. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD   |   Times]
A car on the south side of Cleveland Street at Osceola Avenue on Tuesday in downtown Clearwater. That block of Cleveland Street, which ends at Fort Harrison Avenue, provides 16 short term metered parking spaces, at left and right. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times]
Published Jun. 5, 2019

CLEARWATER — In March, the City Council received a comprehensive parking study, commissioned by the city, which accounted for all of the current spaces in the downtown area.

Perhaps more importantly, the report gave officials a look at what parking would be like once the city finished Imagine Clearwater, the ambitious $50 million remake of the downtown waterfront. The city would lose 692 public parking spaces near the waterfront to the new developments, the study said.

But some council members saw a problem. Or rather, several problems: The report included several errors. Total parking spaces were miscounted in several lots. Former Clearwater council member Bill Jonson independently reported mistakes in the study to the city. He noted, for example, that a city lot at 301 Pierce St. was listed as having 31 spaces. It has 131, Jonson says.

Addresses were listed incorrectly. Jonson found that a lot listed at 112 S Osceola Ave.is, in fact, at 100 N Osceola Ave. (Ironically, 112 S Osceola Ave.is the address of the Clearwater Community Redevelopment Agency, which commissioned the study along with the city.)

"It just seemed like the numbers were wrong, everything was wrong about it," council member David Allbritton said of the study, which cost the city $52,020.

Read more: Survey: City could face parking crunch after Imagine Clearwater gets built

However, Community Redevelopment Agency Director Amanda Thompson said the version of the report that was given to the council in March was just a draft. The city had been going back and forth with the consultant to fix imperfections for months before the council saw the report, Thompson said.

Allbritton said he was not aware the report was a draft. Mayor George Cretekos said he was. The report given to the council was called "Downtown Redevelopment Plan Area Parking Study Final Report 2/18/19."

But more importantly, the report's errors don't change its overall conclusions, Thompson said. The city will still need an additional 500 downtown parking spaces in the next decade, clerical errors or no.

Still, at a recent council work session, members expressed their frustration about the flawed report.

"If we can't have confidence in our consultants, then we're in trouble," Cretekos said then.

In an interview Tuesday, Assistant City Manager Micah Maxwell said the parking study was meant to be just the first step in the city's development of an overall downtown parking strategy. The city is also in talks with Pinellas County on a potential downtown joint-use facility that could include parking.

Some in the downtown business community say they have problems with Clearwater's parking situation that they'd like addressed today.

The city for years has tried to lure business to its long-struggling downtown. Yet merchants looking for a place to set up shop say even a nearly empty downtown does not provide enough convenient parking.

By all accounts, the problem is most pronounced during weekday lunchtime hours. Certain convenient lots, such as the Garden Avenue Garage, are free to the public only on weekday evenings and weekends.

But even the public lots that are available all day, like the garage at Station Square, are not adequately marked, said Downtown Clearwater Merchants Association President Lina Teixeira.

A recent meeting between city officials, including Maxwell, and the Merchants Association turned heated — so much so that City Manager Bill Horne sent an email to the City Council addressing the incident.

"The scene got messy," wrote Horne, who did not attend the meeting. "I don't know what is gained by this kind of treatment, but I don't believe it is justified in any context."

Maxwell met with the Merchants Association to discuss the parking study as an aspect of the city's overall strategy.

Teixeira owns the downtown wine bar Pour Yours at 522 Cleveland St. In an interview Tuesday, she took issue with how Maxwell characterized the study, which shows that city and county-owned lots downtown were less than half filled on a randomly sampled week day.

"The study, we don't feel, showed an accurate picture," Teixeira said. "It totally denies our challenges every day. We live it, yet they tell us we have enough parking."

Maxwell said the city is working hard to address the concerns of the business community. For example, the city is making an effort to improve parking signage, Maxwell said. Clearwater also hopes to fill its currently vacant parking manager position.

Clearwater's plans for downtown could also include a major parking solution. On Monday, Thompson outlined three potential spots for additional public parking lots to the council. The council has also, in recent weeks, floated the idea of including a multi-story parking garage in the city's plans for Imagine Clearwater.

Still, Teixeira said she and other business owners are tired of waiting for the city to solve its downtown parking problems.

''This is not a new complaint," Teixeira said. "This is something that we have to deal with every day."

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

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