Clearwater, developer part ways over parking for downtown waterfront

A plan that included a food hall, retail and residences around the waterfront is dead for now. But construction continues on Imagine Clearwater next door.
The food hall proposed by developer Craig Govan for the corner of Osceola Avenue and Cleveland Street included a parking garage with more than 400 spaces.
The food hall proposed by developer Craig Govan for the corner of Osceola Avenue and Cleveland Street included a parking garage with more than 400 spaces. [ Courtesy of Craig Govan ]
Published Aug. 30, 2021

CLEARWATER — City residents expecting to vote in March on retail, restaurant and residential developments to surround the downtown waterfront park will no longer see the proposal on their ballots.

Jupiter-based developer Craig Govan withdrew his plans for three city parcels after he and city staff could not come to an agreement during conceptual discussions over a parking garage on the downtown bluff.

Govan said a parking garage with more than 400 parking spaces would be necessary for a three-story food hall and brewery with event space he proposed for the corner of Osceola Avenue and Cleveland Street. Assistant City Manager Michael Delk disagreed, saying a parking garage is not the best use of downtown’s prime waterfront property.

“It just appeared as though from a philosophical perspective we were not going to be able to come to a meeting of the minds,” Delk told the City Council at a Monday work session.

Officials did not panic over the deal falling through. As the $84 million renovation of the downtown waterfront progresses, they expect it to attract more interest from developers for the surrounding parcels. Imagine Clearwater, which broke ground in July, is expected to be completed in summer 2023 and will include an outdoor amphitheater, gardens, a bluff walk and a gateway plaza.

“I do believe as we start to go vertical and people see the project coming out of the ground that’s to our west they are going to realize the opportunity and that might open new windows of opportunity to us, so I’m really excited about that,” Mayor Frank Hibbard said.

The city began negotiations with Govan’s City Center Development Group on June 3 after a staff committee selected the group from five bidders who pitched projects for the city’s three bluff parcels.

Plans originally projected for a developer to begin work on the city’s three parcels surrounding the waterfront while the park was under construction. Because of restrictions in the charter, voters have to approve the lease or sale of the former Harborview site at the corner of Osceola Avenue and Cleveland Street, where Govan proposed the food hall. Voter approval is also required for the former City Hall property at Osceola Avenue and Pierce Street, where Govan proposed a 207-unit multifamily building over retail and a grocery.

The city’s Pierce Street parcel, where Govan proposed a hotel, is not under charter restrictions.

Govan, who grew up in Clearwater, said in a statement to the Tampa Bay Times that the parking garage for the food hall was essential to make the project feasible. He disagreed with staff’s contention that a parking garage the city expects to build three blocks away on Park Street would meet the need.

“Clearwater is my family’s home town, and this would have been a hallmark project in my career,” Govan said. “I want the best for the city of Clearwater and its downtown, and hope to work with city staff again in the future on a development.”

The council originally planned for the bluff developments to be on the March ballot. Hibbard said the city must move forward only with a project that is likely to get the blessing of the public.

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“I want it to be an economic engine, but we also have to make certain that it’s something that’s going to be accepted by the voters,” Hibbard said.

As the Imagine Clearwater construction continues over the next two years, Hibbard expects more developers to become interested when they see the attraction coming to life.

Delk said the city can also entertain proposals from other developers in the meantime, as officials are not required to issue a second formal bid for the bluff properties.