CLEARWATER — The political shift that brought three new members to the City Council in March is not likely to change the most debated aspect of the city’s $64 million downtown waterfront revitalization project.
On Tuesday, the Council’s first meeting about Imagine Clearwater since the election, council member Kathleen Beckman urged her colleagues to reconsider the boutique amphitheater with a covering for 4,000 seats, an element added to the design in April 2019.
Beckman and council member Mark Bunker, both elected in March, opposed the covered amphitheater during their campaigns, noting that a covered venue was not in design plans when voters pass a referendum in 2018 allowing the city to build on the waterfront.
But Mayor Frank Hibbard, the third council member elected in March, doubled down in his support for a covered, outdoor amphitheater to fill a void in the local market and act as an economic driver for downtown. He joined council members David Allbritton and Hoyt Hamilton, who were also on the council when the covered venue was added more than a year ago.
“We need a driver in downtown if we want to diversify and grow,” Hibbard said.
Bunker acknowledged he and Beckman were outnumbered and unable to change what is already in motion.
“We’ve been dragging this on for so long that nothing is ever going to get accomplished if we don’t start working on it,” Bunker said.
The council did however discuss other design changes that will have to be finalized through a vote on Thursday.
The Council agreed to scrap the rooftop civic space for the Main Library, which accounted for more than half of the $6.1 million price tag of the library renovation. The rooftop space would have required a costly elevator and stairway rebuild to allow for rooftop access without entering the building as well as a new overhead enclosure.
Upgrades are still planned to improve the library’s meeting spaces, cafe and facade.
Allbritton and Hamilton were in office in June 2019 when the council voted for consultants to design the library upgrades. But on Tuesday they both reversed their support of the library’s rooftop feature and acknowledged they would not want a city operation to compete with downtown businesses.
“We did not commit to this, we just said we’re willing to do more work on it,” Hamilton said, referencing his prior support.
The council also had consensus to relocate the covered amphitheater, moving it from the west side of the park to the north side, making it so the concerts project noise east towards the library instead of south towards nearby condos.
The relocation, advocated by Hibbard during his campaign, had unanimous support from the council.
The Imagine Clearwater design also features a concert green, a shaded half-mile bluff walk, a scenic garden, a human-made lake, event space at the corner of Cleveland Street and Osceola Avenue and a gateway plaza.
Consultants on Tuesday said the build-out could take 28 to 36 months depending on the phasing.