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Clearwater not wowed by downtown bluff plan, but ready to start talks

Mayor Frank Hibbard would be “willing to walk away” if the city and a developer cannot reach a deal that appeals to residents.
City Center Development's rendering of its food hall and brewery for the Harborview site. The firm is proposing a 207-unit workforce housing complex with retail and a grocery on the City Hall parcel and a 100-room hotel on the Pierce Street lot.
City Center Development's rendering of its food hall and brewery for the Harborview site. The firm is proposing a 207-unit workforce housing complex with retail and a grocery on the City Hall parcel and a 100-room hotel on the Pierce Street lot. [ City of Clearwater ]
Published Jun. 1
Updated Jun. 3

CLEARWATER — The City Council is poised to begin negotiations on Thursday with a developer to build a food hall, apartments with ground-floor retail and a hotel around the footprint where the city hopes to transform its downtown waterfront into a vibrant park.

A committee of six city staff members selected Jupiter-based City Center Development Group from five original bidders, and the council on Monday expressed lukewarm consensus for the choice.

Assistant City Manager Michael Delk said although the committee would have liked to see more intensity and had concerns about its parking configuration, City Center’s plan was the most feasible of the five bids.

“We considered City Center Development Group, although not necessarily ideal, to be economically viable, appropriate to the market,” Delk said.

If the council votes on Thursday to begin negotiations, staff will spend the next eight weeks working out an agreement to include the scope of the buildout on three city parcels, incentives for the developer and other terms.

The final agreement could go before the council for a vote in August, Delk said. But council members reiterated the need to come up with a deal that would ultimately get the blessing from residents in a referendum that is required before they can lease or sell parts of the bluff to a developer.

“I think we ought to go into this in good faith and try to make the best possible outcome,” Mayor Frank Hibbard said. “But I also want to say upfront, to be fair to City Center, that if we can’t negotiate something that we think is a good plan to go back to the citizens with, I am willing to walk away and come back at a future date.”

The mixed-use projects would surround the city’s 22-acre waterfront, which is slated for a transformation. The Imagine Clearwater plan calls for a concert amphitheater with covering for 4,000 seats, a green, a bluff walk, a playground, water features and a gateway plaza to replace what is now an underutilized park and asphalt.

A rendering of Imagine Clearwater, the $64 million transformation of the city's downtown waterfront.
A rendering of Imagine Clearwater, the $64 million transformation of the city's downtown waterfront. [ Stantec ]

But four days before the May 24 scheduled groundbreaking of the park, the council agreed to postpone the ceremony due to increased construction prices. Although the city’s contractor has estimated the park will cost $64 million, the city will not receive a guaranteed maximum price until August, Delk said.

Ongoing underground utility work will continue, but the council agreed to wait until final figures come in to determine next steps for the park’s buildout.

Hibbard said if the council declines to enter an agreement with City Center in August, officials may be able to attract a larger group of bidders for the three bluff properties surrounding the park once Imagine Clearwater has broken ground or is completed.

Council member David Allbritton said he wants to see more amenities in City Center’s food hall, but likes the idea that the group is led by someone who was raised in Clearwater, developer Craig Govan. The proposal includes a two-story food hall and brewery with rooftop terrace to be built on the corner of Osceola Avenue and Cleveland Street, the site of the now-demolished Harboview Center.

The plan includes an adjacent 400-space parking garage, which council member Hoyt Hamilton called “a non-starter for me” because the city is planning to build a garage one block away on Park Street.

“I think asking people to walk one block isn’t ridiculous and I think the merchants downtown would love people to be walking through downtown to get to the bluff,” Hamilton said.

Govan’s plan also calls for a seven-story, 207-unit multifamily building over a two-story parking garage for the site of the now-vacant City Hall on Osceola Avenue and Pierce Street. The ground floor includes space for a 20,000 square foot grocery, 8,000 square feet of retail and a 6,000 square-foot restaurant overlooking the park.

A rendering of City Center Development's proposal for the vacant City Hall site. It includes a 207-unit multifamily project with ground floor retail, a grocery and a restaurant.
A rendering of City Center Development's proposal for the vacant City Hall site. It includes a 207-unit multifamily project with ground floor retail, a grocery and a restaurant. [ City of Clearwater ]

Hibbard said he was “not wild” about the 100-room Hilton hotel “and the way it looked,” which Govan has proposed for the third city parcel, the Pierce Street lot across from City Hall. Hibbard noted the design was a placeholder and could be changed during negotiations.

Govan said it will cost his firm $86.7 million to build his project, but he has not given exact figures on how much he expects the city to contribute. In his proposal, Govan has said Wendover Housing Partners, the firm that would build the multifamily project on the City Hall site, would likely request up to $5 million in city redevelopment funds. He also said he will ask the city for $2.5 million to cover 100 public parking spaces in the 600-space garage that will serve the apartments, grocery and retail.

An image of the Rose Hotel in Chicago, a Tapestry Collection by Hilton property, which City Center Development submitted in its original proposal as an example of a hotel design they could build on the Pierce Street lot.
An image of the Rose Hotel in Chicago, a Tapestry Collection by Hilton property, which City Center Development submitted in its original proposal as an example of a hotel design they could build on the Pierce Street lot. [ City of Clearwater ]

He also anticipates requesting up to $3 million from the city’s general fund to complete the project “as construction costs are currently at an all-time high.”

Govan is offering to buy the Pierce Street site for $4 million. He offered 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. Residents must approve the lease or sale of the Harborview and City Hall sites, but not the Pierce Street lot, making any plan subject to voter approval.