CLEARWATER — In May, as costs of building materials soared, City Council members postponed a groundbreaking for the downtown waterfront’s transformation until they got a final construction price from the contractor.
Now Imagine Clearwater’s final price tag is in at $84 million, which is $20 million higher than the estimate officials had long discussed.
About $14.5 million of the increase comes from higher prices of building materials and the council’s decision to add back amenities that had previously been downsized, like water features, shade structures and landscaping, according to engineering director Tara Kivett. The project also had additional design costs and staff hours resulting from the council’s decision to change aspects of the plan over the last few years, Kivett said.
The renovation of the 22-acre waterfront into a regional park with an outdoor amphitheater, bluff walk, gateway plaza, garden and lake area has been pitched as a way to bring life to a downtown that has been depressed for decades.
Assistant City Manager Michael Delk said the price reflects the scope of one of the largest infrastructure projects the city has ever undertaken and the impact it is attempting to bring.
“This will define our waterfront for the remainder of the century,” Delk said. “You don’t tackle something like this very often. And when you do, I think you need to construct what has lasting value, lasting significance, and I think that’s where we’re ending up.”
The council will vote on Thursday whether to approve Tampa-based Skanska’s construction proposal, which accounts for $55 million.
During a work session on Monday, council members made no comments about how they’ll vote. But all five in later interviews confirmed they are prepared to move forward.
“I wish it were lower, obviously,” Mayor Frank Hibbard said of the final costs. “At the same time, we do have the funds and I don’t want to compromise the quality of the project because it is something we are going to live with for generations.”
City officials have identified sources to pay for all but $7 million of the $84 million project, a gap that could be made up through requesting Pinellas County bed tax funding and state dollars. Other potential sources include revenue from the sale of any of the three city-owned parcels bordering the park and naming rights.
The city had previously budgeted $5 million in city tax revenue, $19.5 million in Penny for Pinellas one-cent sales tax revenue and up to $30 million of bond proceeds to pay for Imagine Clearwater. In May, the city took $22 million in Penny for Pinellas funds dedicated to the replacement of the Sand Key Bridge and moved it to the Imagine Clearwater project.
The bridge was slated to be replaced in 2040 when it is 50 years old at a cost of $41 million. Kivett said that replacement schedule was too conservative because, at 25 years old, the bridge is showing no signs of deterioration. She said the plan now is to replace the bridge in 2070.
If the council votes to proceed, construction is expected to be completed in July 2023. Underground utility work is already underway.
Last month, the City Council also began negotiations with City Center Development, led by Craig Govan, for the redevelopment of the three parcels bordering the park. Govan has proposed building a two-story food hall and brewery on the corner of Osceola Avenue and Cleveland Street; a 207-unit multifamily building with a grocery, retail stores and a restaurant on the site of the vacant City Hall on Osceola Avenue and Pierce Street; and a 100-room hotel on the vacant lot on Pierce Street.
A term sheet with Govan’s group will be presented to the council on Aug. 16, Delk said.
The design for the park overhaul has gone through multiple changes over the years. In April 2019, the council voted to replace a simple, uncovered bandshell for Imagine Clearwater with an outdoor amphitheater and canopy over 4,000 seats.
Three new council members were elected in March 2020, including Kathleen Beckman and Mark Bunker, who opposed the amphitheater. But they were outnumbered by a majority who supported to keep the feature as an economic driver for downtown even with a price tag of about $15 million.
Additional design costs also came from the council’s 4-1 decision in June 2020 to move the amphitheater from the western edge of the park to the north side, making it so the greenspace was no longer bifurcated by the venue and so the sound projects to the east. Beckman voted no.
In addition to the water features and shade structures added back to the design, the council also approved adding solar panels, additional playground features and sidewalk modifications.
The final price also includes contingency costs.
“I think the goal is to do our park and make it a showcase and generate economic activity in our city,” Beckman said. “In order to make it family friendly, it costs more money than what was in the initial drawings.”