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Clearwater cuts $9 million from Imagine Clearwater waterfront park construction

But with $10 million spent so far on design and utility work, the cost of Clearwater’s downtown waterfront redevelopment still reaches $64 million.
The most recent rendering of the proposed Imagine Clearwater park. This image does not include the retail, residential and hotel projects proposed for three city-owned parcels that border the park.
The most recent rendering of the proposed Imagine Clearwater park. This image does not include the retail, residential and hotel projects proposed for three city-owned parcels that border the park. [ City of Clearwater ]
Published Nov. 30, 2020|Updated Nov. 30, 2020

CLEARWATER — Two months after the City Council paused a $6.4 million renovation of the downtown Main Library, the city is moving this week to scrap the upgrade altogether.

The initial decision to incorporate a makeover of the library into the Imagine Clearwater plan, a roughly $64 million redevelopment of the downtown waterfront, was made by the city council in June 2019. But since then, the makeup of the five-member council has changed, with three new officials elected in March.

Cost estimates for the library also fluctuated, even after council members voted this year to nix a fifth-floor element, prompting them to put the renovation on hold on Oct. 1.

“I think everyone started asking questions about what was the real cost benefit of doing the changes to the library, and the conclusion was: not enough,” said Mayor Frank Hibbard, who was elected in March along with council members Kathleen Beckman and Mark Bunker.

The city is now on track to slash $9 million of construction costs from the downtown waterfront project by nixing the library renovation and scaling back some cosmetic aspects within the park. The changes would drop the running construction estimate of Imagine Clearwater from $64 million to $55 million, assistant city manager Michael Delk said at a work session on Monday.

But the updated $55 million figure does not include $10 million the city has already spent on design and utility work to date.

“It’s still a $64 million park,” engineering construction manager Tim Kurtz confirmed after council member Kathleen Beckman noted the discrepancy.

The now-rescinded renovation of the 16-year-old library had included a reconfiguration of the main entry, a new grand staircase, a new art gallery, redesigned first floor/circulation area, renovated workspaces and a new city council chambers.

The council closed the library to the public on Sept. 25 in order to begin renovations. It remained closed after the council paused the project Oct. 1.

Main Library staff and equipment had been relocated during the closing. With the renovations now scrapped, Library Director Jennifer Obermaier said the Main Library will reopen to the public “as soon as possible,” with a target date of Dec. 14.

Delk said the city has spent between $300,000 and $400,000 on design and permit work on the library renovation that will now not be used.

Other cost cuts made to Imagine Clearwater include scaling back the play area next to the lake, eliminating the south bluff walk, eliminating a pedestrian bridge over Cleveland Street, removing detailed plantings from the garden, and other mostly cosmetic changes, according to Kurtz, the engineering manager.

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On Thursday, the council will have to formally vote on whether to eliminate the library renovation from Imagine Clearwater. Delk said the consensus will give the city’s consultant, Stantec, the ability to gather final pricing with contractors and attain final permits over the next 90 days.

Delk expects park construction to begin in March or April, although Duke Energy has already begun underground utility work within the 22-acre footprint. He said the council will see a final guaranteed cost estimate, from Stantec, confirming contractor pricing before construction.

The target completion date of the park is Fall 2023.

The city has identified $49.7 million to pay for construction, mostly coming from Penny for Pinellas one-cent sales tax revenue, city tax revenue and up to $30 million of bond proceeds.

Council members also expect to receive revenue by selling the naming rights of the park’s 4,000-covered seat amphitheater and other corporate sponsorships.

The city is also developing a request for proposals for three city-owned parcels bordering the park for developers to build retail, residential and hotel development. Last year, the city estimated it could generate $23 million from the sale of those sites: the former city hall property, an adjacent 1.4 acre lot on Pierce Street and the vacant corner of Osceola Avenue and Cleveland Street, which formerly housed the Harborview Center. The lease or sale of the City Hall and Harborview sites would require voter approval.

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