CLEARWATER — City officials have agreed to postpone Monday’s long-anticipated groundbreaking of the estimated $64 million transformation of the downtown waterfront in light of soaring costs of building materials and the uncertainty that brings to one of the city’s largest infrastructure projects.
Mayor Frank Hibbard made the proposal at Thursday’s city council meeting after consulting with City Manager Bill Horne and Assistant City Manager Michael Delk earlier in the day. His colleagues on the council agreed unanimously.
“I don’t want anyone to misconstrue this, I fully support completing Imagine Clearwater, but I do believe in the proper sequencing of events,” Hibbard said.
The city’s construction manager, Skanska, is currently underway on underground utility work on the 22-acre Imagine Clearwater project after delivering a $12.9 million guaranteed maximum price for the site work in April.
But Delk said the city is still waiting for Skanska to deliver the final guaranteed price for vertical construction, which is estimated at $64 million. The final guaranteed price will include the latest costs for building materials and commodities.
Delk expects to receive final figures in August but said the ongoing underground utility work will continue in the meantime.
“It’s the ceremony that’s delayed,” Delk said in a later interview. “The project marches on.”
Imagine Clearwater calls for a transformation of the under-used waterfront into a park with an outdoor amphitheater, a green, a winding bluff walk, a playground and a gateway plaza surrounded by mixed use projects.
Lumber prices are at all-time highs and crude oil, which is used for a series of building materials, rose 80 percent since October, the Wall Street Journal reported in March. As demand puts pressure on the supply chain, increases are also being seen in everything from concrete to steel and other commodities.
Imagine Clearwater has faced multiple delays since the city approved the conceptual plan in February 2017. Most notably, in October 2018, the council directed consultants to go back to the drawing board to replace the simple, uncovered bandshell with a 4,000-seat covered amphitheater. The change caused a six-month delay in the design process.
A series of dignitaries were scheduled to appear at Monday’s groundbreaking, including U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, D-St. Petersburg; Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor; state Sen. Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater; state Rep. Nick DiCeglie, R-Indian Rocks Beach; and stakeholders from various neighborhood, business and downtown organizations.
City staff were finalizing the speakers and logistics as late as Thursday morning, hours before the postponement, emails show.
But city officials on Thursday tried to maintain optimism that a delay in the ceremonial groundbreaking does not mean a delay in the Imagine Clearwater build out.
Delk also said the questions raised over the guaranteed maximum price for construction of the park will not impact the city’s evaluation of two developers’ proposals for mixed use retail and residential projects for three city properties around the waterfront. City staff is expected to make a recommendation to the council on those proposals on June 3.
“I’m not thrilled with any thought of a delay but as long as we’re continuing moving forward I’ll go along with this and hopefully we’ll see if those prices come down,” council member Mark Bunker said.