CLEARWATER — What should be the mission of the future $64 million downtown waterfront park?
Four years since the Imagine Clearwater concept was formalized on paper and weeks before the park is expected to break ground, city council members are now preparing to craft a mission statement to guide the parties that will have a hand in operating the signature project.
Competing ideas for the identity of Coachman Park, the heart of the project, have circled for years, most notably in how representatives from Ruth Eckerd Hall successfully advocated for the city council to replace the concert area’s simple, uncovered bandshell with an outdoor amphitheater and canopy for 4,000 seats.
Now, with the design for the 22-acre park completed and contractors preparing to break ground in May, the council will meet later this month to define the project’s mission. Fundamental questions are still unanswered about how many ticketed events should take place each year at the amphitheater and how the remaining greenspace could be used for smaller events - but those decisions will be guided by the park’s mission, council members said at a special work session on Monday.
“It really should be ingrained in the identity and the character of the organization that you can tell anybody on the elevator what the mission is of Coachman Park,” Mayor Frank Hibbard said.
Parks and Recreation Director Jim Halios said once a mission statement is crafted, the city will put out a request for proposals to hire a management company this summer that will operate the performance venue for the city. That operating agreement is expected to spell out how many events the operator will host each year and whether the city will receive any profits from the operation.
A second agreement between the city and a nonprofit conservancy could oversee the programming for the remainder of the park. Halios said in a later interview he hopes to hire a consultant who will help the city form a conservancy in June.
Those partners will shape not only daily operations, but how the park is perceived by the community.
Council member Kathleen Beckman suggested a bandshell be erected to host community events like craft fairs, dog shows or barbecues to help provide a sense of place for residents who may be on the outside of ticketed events at the amphitheater.
“Where are our residents going to have a low-key little event in the city that they can just book three months out?” Beckman said, referencing how Coachman Park’s current bandshell will be replaced with the amphitheater venue.
Pam Akin reminded the council that the charter would require a voter referendum to build another structure in the park. But Halios said community gatherings could be accommodated with a portable stage the city currently uses for small events.
Council members also alluded to how they do not expect to earn a profit from the concert venue but are looking to an agreement that would cover operating costs.
An operator would be responsible for booking concerts and scheduling, but council members also stated they wanted to see community fixtures like Clearwater Jazz Holiday and Wild Splash remain on the downtown waterfront.
The council is expected to discuss its mission statement at a special meeting April 19, Halios said.