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After four years of planning, construction nears for Imagine Clearwater

Clearwater’s Main Library will likely close Sept. 25 for the first leg of construction on the $64 million downtown waterfront renovation.

CLEARWATER — After more than four years of planning and design work, the city is now preparing to turn the first shovel of dirt for Imagine Clearwater, the roughly $64 million rebuild of the downtown waterfront.

The City Council showed unanimous support on Monday to close the Main Library at 100 N Osceola Ave on Sept. 25 to allow for a $4 million renovation of the structure to begin. The council will vote on taking this step at its meeting on Thursday, according to communications director Joelle Castelli.

Closing the library to the public during the renovation will allow the city to save nearly $500,000 and cut four months off the construction timeline, pushing the targeted completion date for the library to summer 2021, according to assistant city manager Michael Delk.

Construction on the remaining 22-acre park, which includes a garden, winding bluff walk, gateway plaza, concert green and covered outdoor amphitheater is expected to begin later this year with a targeted completion date of March 2022, Delk said.

Related: RELATED: Imagine Clearwater design moves forward with $5 million in cost cuts

“It is exciting, and I’m really anxious to have the library and park construction in the rearview mirror,” Delk said.

Contractors are slated to begin infrastructure work for the park in mid-October. Delk said Coachman Park will eventually have to be fenced off to the public during construction, but he said it is unclear when the closure will begin.

This means a temporary pause to Coachman Park being a venue for signature events, including the Clearwater Jazz Holiday that attracts 40,000 people annually. Organizers cancelled this year’s event, scheduled for the weekend of Oct. 15, due to concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic.

Steve Weinberger, CEO of the Clearwater Jazz Holiday Foundation, said the organization is planning to host smaller-scale, outdoor music experiences for late fall but is still finalizing details.

As construction on the library and park area moves forward, the city must still finalize decisions about a key element of Imagine Clearwater: the three city-owned properties along the Bluff that are pegged for residential, retail and/or hotel projects.

The city is holding a special meeting on Sept. 15 to discuss the framework for a request for proposal that Delk hopes to release by the end of the year, which will solicit proposals from developers for the former Harborview property, the former City Hall site and an adjacent vacant lot — all of which border the park footprint.

On Tuesday, the city is participating in a bond validation hearing, a step required by law to issue $30 million in bonds the City Council voted to authorize last year as a method of paying for the Imagine Clearwater project.

While the library is under construction, Delk said the city council chambers on the first floor will still be accessible only for public meetings.

The 48 employees who work at the Main Library will be reassigned to other city branches or departments, according to library director Jennifer Obermaier.

Obermaier said during the construction, the Main Library’s collection will be unavailable to the public for item holds, browsing, and returns.

City officials are weighing adding temporary hours to some of the other library locations during the construction phase.