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Two finalists present their visions for Clearwater bluff to City Council

A staff evaluation committee will give a recommendation to the council on June 3, but officials can settle on one plan, a combination of both or none.
An evaluation committee will give its recommendation on June 3 to the City Council for the two developer finalists trying to build on the downtown bluff.
An evaluation committee will give its recommendation on June 3 to the City Council for the two developer finalists trying to build on the downtown bluff. [ City of Clearwater ]
Published May 17
Updated May 17

After the two finalists competing to build on the downtown waterfront made their presentations to the City Council on Monday, officials made clear they have two distinct proposals when it comes to economics and scope.

One is to build a food hall and brewery, a 207-unit workforce housing complex with retail and a grocery, and a 100-room hotel across the city’s three parcels. This plan, from City Center Development, led by Jupiter-based developer Craig Govan, would cost the firm $86.7 million.

The second calls for 150 units of workforce housing with cultural and retail space on one site, 220 units of market rate housing and retail on another site and a 175-room hotel with restaurant and retail on the third site. This plan from West Palm Beach’s SROA Capital, led by Ben Macfarland, could cost the developer between $300 million and $500 million.

A staff evaluation committee will make a recommendation for the council to consider on June 3, according to assistant city manager Michael Delk. But officials on Monday stressed the need to settle on a plan that will ultimately be able to pass one of the most difficult approvals: a voter referendum tentatively scheduled for March.

City officials have the authority to select one firm, both firms for a combination of the proposals or another scenario that was floated on Monday — selecting no one at all. If the city selects one or multiple proposals next month, officials will then begin more in-depth negotiations for a term sheet, said city attorney Pam Akin.

Mayor Frank Hibbard noted how the city is set to break ground next week on Imagine Clearwater, a $64 million renovation of its 22-acre park. Once that project nears completion, it could be a catalyst for private investment.

“We may be better off by waiting two years,” Mayor Frank Hibbard said. “I don’t want to in many respects because I don’t want to see the bluff in downtown under construction forever.”

In a request for proposal window that closed on April 12, the city asked for residential, hotel and retail projects on three bluff sites: a 1.4-acre lot at the corner of Cleveland Street and Osceola Avenue that housed the now-demolished Harborview Center; the 2.6-acre vacant City Hall on Osceola Avenue; and an adjacent 1.2-acre Pierce Street lot.

The staff evaluation committee narrowed the five bids received to two finalists last month.

The two finalists also carried some uncertainty as neither proposal gave definitive clarity on what incentives it would ultimately request from the city.

“That’s the economic piece that I am most concerned about,” Akin said.

City Center Development’s Govan is offering to buy the Pierce Street site for $4 million and will at least ask the city for $2.5 million for 100 public parking spaces in the hotel’s garage, according to his proposal. He is offering to lease the Harborview site for up to $110,000 per year and to lease the City Hall site for up to $250,000 per year.

SROA Capital did not propose a financial offer for any of the three sites, but analyst Destiny Nelson said on Monday the firm is willing to work with the city.

Several council members praised Govan’s proposal to have a food hall on the Harborview site, similar to Tampa’s highly successful Armature Works. He touted his local ties to the community, having grown up in the city eating at Clearwater Bagels and attending Clearwater High School before his career in real estate. He’s developed of a series of master-planned business parks, residential and big box developments across Florida.

City Center Development's rendering of its food hall and brewery for the Harborview site.
City Center Development's rendering of its food hall and brewery for the Harborview site. [ City of Clearwater ]

Following questions from the evaluation committee this month about the scope of their project, SROA Capital representatives provided the council on Monday with a scaled-back version of uses for the three sites from what they originally submitted.

SROA is working with Holabird and Root architects and ARGO construction management. The group also submitted a proposal to develop St. Petersburg’s 86-acre Tropicana Field site, but their bid did not make it as a finalist.

SROA's rendering for the three sites. From left to right: the Pierce Street lot, the City Hall site, an existing condo and the Harborview site proposal.
SROA's rendering for the three sites. From left to right: the Pierce Street lot, the City Hall site, an existing condo and the Harborview site proposal. [ City of Clearwater ]

City Council member David Allbritton praised the plan’s concept of re-purposing the vacant City Hall building, instead of demolishing it, and using it as a civic event center and convention center with housing on top.

But several council members questioned the scope of the buildings and how they would overpower the bluff and views.