CLEARWATER ― The City Council took a major step toward launching the Imagine Clearwater project on Thursday, voting to authorize up to $30 million in city bonds to fund the $64 million project.
The bonds will not free up money for the waterfront project immediately. Any construction projects funded by bond money will still have to go the council for approval.
However, once the bonds are issued, the city will have access to a key revenue stream as the signature project moves forward.
The vote on the bond issue passed 4-1. Council member Bob Cundiff ― the only person on the five-member body running for re-election ― was the only one to vote against it.
Cundiff moved to table the vote until after the city presented its preliminary design plans for the Imagine Clearwater project to the public in a series of community meetings set to take place early next month.
His colleagues pushed back assertively against delaying this key funding step.
“Government by referendum does not work,” said Council member Hoyt Hamilton. “The people of Clearwater authorized and approved a redevelopment of our waterfront by a huge majority. They also elected us to represent them on decisions that need to be made.”
The city fast-tracked the Imagine Clearwater project in 2017 to remake the downtown waterfront, but until Thursday, most of it was unfunded. In one fell swoop, the city changed that.
The $64 million project includes $41 million for a dazzling redesign of Coachman Park; $6 million for a renovation of the Clearwater Main Library; $3 million for the park’s conceptual designs and a $14 million transformation of the Coachman Park bandshell into a boutique covered amphitheater.
The bonds will likely be paid out over 30 years from the city’s general revenue fund. They will not be drawn from property tax revenues, and interest rates currently sit around 3.5 percent.
The vote leaves the city with concrete funding options for about $50 million of the $64 million project. The city has a number of options for how it pays for the remaining $14 million: it could sell some of its property downtown, or rearrange plans for certain county-funded infrastructure projects. But those decisions have yet to be made.