CLEARWATER — One day, officials envision, the city’s $60-million-plus downtown waterfront will be complete.
The parking lot near Coachman Park will be transformed into a concert green complete with a 4,000-seat amphitheater. A shaded, half-mile bluff walk will run mostly along the east end of the waterfront. An event space will be erected at the corner of Cleveland Street and Osceola Avenue, near a gateway plaza. Developments will be stationed at the former Harborview and City Hall sites. The Clearwater Main Library will look brand new. Coachman Park will have a brilliant new garden, and a scenic lake will rest under the shade of the Memorial Causeway.
In a recent publicity offensive, the city elaborated on the dream of Imagine Clearwater. But not all of Imagine Clearwater. Officials spoke little about the amphitheater, which dominated months of labored discussion earlier this year. Instead, they focused mainly on the green spaces.
At a City Council meeting last week, assistant city manager Michael Delk, who’s leading Imagine Clearwater from the city’s side, presented a range of possibilities for the new waterfront: Japanese-style gardens; sculptures blended in with the landscape; fire lanterns on the lake.
“Imagination is our limit,” Delk said.
The first step toward making those dreams a reality? A name change. Coachman Park will become Coachman Commons, a name that evokes a greater sense of community ownership, Delk said.
City officials are drawing on several existing parks as they design the commons. For a green area in the center of the planned lake in the southwest of the waterfront, for example, the city hopes to emulate the feel of the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens in Delray Beach, cultural affairs coordinator Christopher Hubbard said.
On the lake itself, Delk floated the idea of incorporating a fire element similar to Providence, R.I.'s WaterFire concept. Near the lake, on the bluff walk, the city is considering a bamboo garden with LED lights to blend the concepts of past and future, Hubbard said.
Other parts of the park could incorporate elements from civic areas in New York City; Des Moines, Iowa; Orlando and Clearwater’s sister city of Nagano, Japan, Hubbard said. When the park is fully designed, Hubbard, who’s spearheading the park’s artistic direction, wants a series of disparate but connected spaces.
“We’re going for a very harmonious and natural flow,” Hubbard said.
The timeline of the park reactivation is still to be determined, Delk said. Construction, which will take between 15-18 months, can’t begin until permits are drawn. Those are still months away.
The city has budgeted $41.4 million for the improvements, including the upgrades slated for the park’s bandshell. That’s most of the $64.5 million the city envisions spending on Imagine Clearwater. (In July, Finance Director Jay Ravins said Imagine Clearwater would cost about $62 million at a work session, but that estimate was amended three days later in a city document to $64.5 million.)
The rest of the $64.5 million will go toward refurbishments to the Clearwater Main Library ($6.1 million) and the 4,000-seat covered amphitheater ($14 million). The city has already spent almost $3 million on design work and the demolition of the old Harborview building. (The redevelopments at the Harborview and City Hall sites will be subject to voter approval.)
Still, even habitual critics of the city’s Imagine Clearwater efforts seem to to be giving the Coachman Commons concept high marks. Many on the Downtown Development Board, which advises the city on downtown matters, have questioned the wisdom of the city’s planned library upgrades. But at a meeting last week, board members seemed satisfied by Delk’s presentation.
“This is the first time I’ve seen some, ‘wow, this is looking really good,’” said board member and CEO of KnowBe4 Stu Sjouwerman. “I hope we can get something going sooner rather than later.”
At a Monday meeting of the Clearwater Neighborhoods Coalition, residents ― particularly those skeptical of the expanded amphitheater ― were excited by the most recent round of plans, said the group’s president, Karen Cunningham.
But questions remain for some. Lina Teixeira, an announced candidate for City Council in 2020 and another member of the Downtown Development Board, said in an interview that she believes in the Imagine Clearwater project overall. But she still didn’t see a feature in the most recent round of plans that would consistently draw outsiders to the park.
“I see some elements lacking, and I’m very concerned that we’re making a park that isn’t going to be self-sustaining,” Teixeira said.