CLEARWATER — After touring the newly overhauled Coachman Park — which opens officially on Wednesday, June 28, with a weeklong series of concerts and free activities — it looks like Clearwater has found its Central Park.
The 19-acre waterfront space is the anchor of the $84 million Imagine Clearwater project, the city’s largest project ever in both acreage and dollar value. The park is almost unrecognizable to people who spent every October on a blanket for Clearwater Jazz Holiday. The space in the park that held jazz shows since 1980 now has a 4,000-seat shaded music venue called The Sound, with Cheap Trick as its opening act.
There’s also a splash pad and a new playground for kids, several walkable areas to just hang out under the many sail-shaped shade structures, and buskers, vendors, food trucks and prime seating when it’s sunset time.
The park’s opening week is full of free and cheap concerts, markets, yoga in the park and kids activities, leading up to a big July 4 fireworks show with the Florida Orchestra providing the soundtrack. See them all at coachmanpark.com.
Besides that programming, the park itself has new flourishes that are worth noticing, and here are our favorites:
1. The Sound
The area’s newest music venue is unique in its size, able to seat 4,000 under cover and another 5,000 on the lawn. That has opened it up to shows by the Goo Goo Dolls, John Fogerty, Peter Frampton, Kenny Loggins and Chris Young.
Outdoor venues in Florida can be problematic with our heat and humidity. On our construction tour there was a breeze blowing through that I thought was fans, but that turned out to be the sea breeze I was feeling. The fans hadn’t been installed yet. There are five fans, which go by the proper business name of Big Ass Fans, that are stationed in every quadrant to keep the air moving.
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Even though most of the shows are ticketed events, including the sold-out show by Cheap Trick, you can still get a bit of a free show by pulling up a blanket on the nearby lawn. Standing near the library entrance in Coachman Park, I was able to pretty clearly hear a recent soundcheck they were doing by blasting Metallica. The organizers have no problem with visitors pulling up their boat in the harbor or squatting on the lawn to eavesdrop on the concerts with paying customers.
The covered section of The Sound will be set up with generously sized folding chairs. Those who are in the lawn section will not be allowed to bring any chairs to prevent obstructed views. We predict prime seating on the lawn will be near the gorgeous old oak tree next to the library that towers over the slope.
There is also upscale space at the venue that organizers are not referring to as “VIP” because they don’t want it to be confused with the VIP packages many artists sell for meet-and-greets.
The “elevated experience” area, called The View, offers an air-conditioned room complete with a wet bar, catered food area, restrooms and seating as well as an upper-level balcony that overlooks the stage and Coachman Park. Ticket prices for The View have not yet been announced.
The Sound is managed by Ruth Eckerd Hall, and there will be a minimum of 35 events per year at the venue.
Probably the most critical question for any visitor is: Where do I park?
There are approximately 3,000 parking spaces in parking garages and lots that are within walking distance (five to six blocks) from the park. An additional 2,000 privately owned parking spaces are also nearby, and the city is working with property owners to have those lots open for special events and when there are concerts.
And that’s by design.
Visitors will park and then be walking past restaurants and retail. The city hopes that brings waves of visitors to local businesses.
“The point is to activate downtown,” said Catherine Corcoran, the city’s project manager. “We are not an island. We are here to support the community and activate that space.”
The prices in the city and county garages run $2 an hour daily from 6 a.m.-6 p.m., with free parking after 6 p.m. and free parking all day on Saturday and Sunday. For grand opening week only, keep an eye out for special parking set up by the city with free trolleys.
You can find maps of the parking lots, with hours and prices, at coachmanpark.com.
3. Civic Gateway
The entrance to the park is located catty-corner from the Capitol Theatre in downtown Clearwater, at the corner of Osceola Avenue and Cleveland Street. It has an upper and lower level with an expansive grand staircase that has a cascading water feature and wheelchair ramp. Once you get down the stairs, you’ll find several bench seats under shade structures that are positioned so they throw shade during the hottest part of the day.
The upper level’s overview here offers a great view of the park to plan your visit, be it playgrounds to the left or vendors and buskers to the right. The lower level will be used for farmers markets and craft fairs.
4. Splash pad and playground
For kids and families, the area to the left of the gateway has a way to cool off that Corcoran likes to brag has 62 spigots, way more than the St. Pete Pier’s splash pad, and four vertical elements that will shower visitors. There are also nearby family bathrooms.
“Keeping cool is the name of the game here,” Corcoran said.
Around the corner is a new playground that is pirate-themed. It has a bouncy rubberized surface and two climbing structures, one of them equipped for kids in wheelchairs to climb. There’s also a wheelchair ramp on a musical play structure that has piano keys and interactive elements throughout.
The edge of the playground is filled with soft white beach sand and more shade structures and sitting areas for parents.
5. Shopping and concessions
Vendors, food trucks and buskers will be working in the park, similar to the nightly Pier 60 sunset festival at Clearwater Beach.
There is a standing concession at The Sound, with a six-bay window overlooking the green space, but also a rotating group of food trucks. In addition, a regular market of artisans and vendors will be set up in a green space where live music will be frequent.
Some of the outdoor vendor markets are themed for the opening week, including the Girl Gang of Pinellas County’s Women’s Market on Saturday, July 1, and the Hispanic Farmers Market on Sunday, July 2.
6. Places to hang
What is sure to be a popular spot is what they call the Bay Walk Promenade, a ribbon of wide sidewalk along the waterfront that also has benches and low wall seating that faces the water.
That spot has a great view of the Memorial Causeway Bridge in the foreground and the Sand Key Bridge in the distance. It’s even prettier at night when the bridges are lit up to invite an evening stroll.
The area near the playground called The Lake, in truth, is a stormwater retention pond. But it has been enhanced with a pedestrian bridge and fountains that are already attracting many birds.
There’s a curved section of the pedestrian bridge. “That is sure to be the sight of many engagement proposals,” said Corcoran. It’s certainly Instagram-worthy.
Just past the lake area, near the dockmaster’s office, is a piece of public art called the “Middens.” It is named after shell middens, also called shell mounds, that were left by Indigenous people in coastal areas, made of discarded shells and fish bones. There are a number of picnic tables and low walls for sitting near the artwork and also set up throughout the area with generous shade structures.
There are walking areas along the waterfront, and the North Bluff Walk near the library has seating space and a higher view of the whole park.
7. Nighttime lights
Special attention has been paid to lighting up the night. The splash pad for kids has rainbow LED lights, and the bridges just off in the distance are beautifully lit at night.
But the big gems are the five gas-powered torchieres set up along the edge of the green space between the playground and The Sound. They look like metal palm trees and were custom-made for the park. At night they have a flame that can be adjusted and lights that can be programmed with an array of colors.
It’s one of Corcoran’s favorite things about the project that can easily be called the biggest one of her career.
“It adds a little drama in the evening,” she said, “and in municipal construction you don’t usually get beauty for beauty’s sake, and that’s what they are.”
The area they call The Green near the Bay Walk Promenade will have daily free live music, generally from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. It’s a wide expanse of grass that can be inviting for throwing a ball or having a picnic.
8. Bier Pier
The pier that hugs the waterfront extends off the Bay Walk Promenade, and the events staff has dubbed it the Bier Pier.
On Saturday, July 1, at noon there will be a Craft Bier Pier, and city parks officials said more events like that are planned for that space.
9. Mural art
At the moment, the walls on the North Bluff Walk adjacent to the library have big cloth wraps on them that say “public art coming soon.” But the wraps have pictures from the art collection found at the main library, so they give an idea of what they are going for.
Artists are going to be invited to paint murals on these walls overlooking the bluff to make for a pleasant walk around the park.
10. Coachman Gardens
Located just off the main entrance next to an open green space, there is a collection of native palms and shrubs on a path that also includes a shaded structure for sitting and relaxing.
In addition, there are more than 50 mature trees and palms that were salvaged from the park before construction began. The idea was to give a more mature look to the plantings.
If you go to Coachman Park and the Sound
The newly refurbished city park will open June 28. There are a variety of events, markets and concerts on the schedule leading up to a big July 4 fireworks show with the Florida Orchestra. For information, see coachmanpark.com. 301 Drew St., Clearwater.