CLEARWATER — The goal is to one day illuminate the Memorial Causeway Bridge with colorful lights to create another downtown waterfront attraction. But that endeavor can wait for now, the City Council agreed Thursday.
The Council voted unanimously to postpone spending the $1.48 million needed to begin the lighting project and to finalize permits with Florida Department of Transportation.
Officials said the city should hold off on such a large expenditure until final engineering costs are determined for their real priority — Imagine Clearwater, the roughly $64 million renovation of the downtown waterfront into a vibrant park.
“We have a lot of little things to discuss, and it all revolves around money, and right now that’s a concern of mine,” Council Member David Allbritton said of the park project. “I’m okay with putting (the bridge lighting) aside for now. I’m not letting it go, but I want to make sure we have enough to do the park right.”
City consultants are expected to deliver final engineering plans for the park at the end of March, according to assistant city manager Michael Delk. And after permitting is secured, contractors could break ground in April or May, he said.
Once construction begins on the makeover of the 22-acres of city-owned waterfront, which will include a garden, concert venue with covered seating, a green, a civic gateway and other features, officials hope private sponsorships will help support bells and whistles, like the bridge project.
“I would be really surprised if we didn’t start seeing some people that would like to start associating their name with some things in the park,” Allbritton said.
The Council on Thursday also agreed to postpone until March 15 a discussion about restoring any amenities that had been cut from the park to save roughly $7 million from the budget.
By then, city staff will have a better idea of costs for about 13 major infrastructure and how they will affect the overall budget. Those include things like the seating for the outdoor covered amphitheater, security cameras, storm water pipe materials, hurricane doors and windows, and other items.
Last fall, the city agreed to nix the $6 million renovation of the Clearwater Main Library and cut about $9 million of amenities from the park in order to get the project within budget.
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.
The city is also planning to raise money by selling sponsorships and naming rights and through proceeds from the sale or lease of three city-owned parcels surrounding the park that are being marketed to developers for mixed use projects. The city has also discussed the public forming a non-profit that would act as a conservancy to raise money for operations.
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The bridge project has been discussed since at least 2014, when consultants included the bridge lighting in a series of recommendations for reviving downtown.
And although the council postponed the project, the underground utilities needed for a control panel for the bridge lighting is already included in the park’s construction plan.
“I think we need to keep the main thing the main thing and to me the main thing is the park itself,” Mayor Frank Hibbard said.