If a tourist or local wants to catch a fishing charter, dinner cruise or other waterborne excursion on Clearwater Beach, they ultimately will find themselves strolling the slips at the city’s beach marina.
The marina has helped make Clearwater Beach one of the largest tourism engines in Tampa Bay.
But the 1950s-era docks, central to the beach economy, have not had a major upgrade in decades.
“We are really like the need for any new fire station or new library — this marina has been at the end of its life for a long time,” said Ed Chesney, Clearwater marine and aviation director. “It’s old wooden pilings, it’s falling apart and we’re doing repair after repair.”
This month, the City Council green-lit design work for a rebuild of the Clearwater Beach Marina, officially advancing a renovation that has been discussed for more than 15 years. Chesney said the budget for the “state of the art” project is now at $18 million, but it could rise by the end of the design and permitting process by Tampa-based engineering firm Moffatt & Nichol, which is expected to take about a year.
When construction begins in 2023, Chesney said, the goal is to keep disruption of tenants’ businesses to a minimum. The project will be built in phases and boats will be moored while the marina is worked on, he said.
The construction will rebuild water, sewer and electric utilities that run to the docks and reconfigure the 160 commercial, private and transient boat slips.
Since the marina was built in the 1950s, slips have been added over the years in piecemeal fashion, which, Chesney said, resulted in some wasted space. It hasn’t grown to accommodate the larger boats, which his why there is a waiting list for the two 100-foot slips.
He said one of the biggest changes the public will experience will be the removal of enclosed ticket vending stations seen at individual boat slips.
Enclosed ticket booths on docks became noncompliant with county code in the 1990s, but the marina had been grandfathered in. They will not be able to be included in the rebuild, and Chesney said ticket vending will occur “somewhere adjacent to the marina.”
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Chad Haggert, vice president of the Double Eagle Deep Sea Fishing charter, said he worries about the removal of the ticket booths, which are the businesses’ way of interacting with potential customers as they stroll along the dock.
Chesney said the city will solicit more input from the business tenants in a few months when the design process gets underway.
Mike Colby, president of the Clearwater Marine Association, which represents the business tenants, said a renovation is needed to address outdated cables, pipes and wiring that stick out along the seawall. During high tides and storms, the city has to shut off electricity so they don’t come in contact with the water.
“Utilities is highest on everybody’s list,” Colby said.
Colby said businesses are preparing for the unavoidable disruption expected during construction but that some modernization of the marina is needed.
“People that earn their living in the maritime industry, they are pragmatic, they are not going to have heartburn and the vendors are looking forward to getting their input in,” he continued.
But, Haggert said, the biggest need in the marina is something not included in the renovation: a parking garage. The 500-space marina lot fills quickly during peak times, and the lack of a garage requires customers to park blocks away, lugging equipment with them back to the marina.
“During busy weekends and spring break, I sometimes watch $1,000 or $2,000 in business drive out of here because they can’t find parking,” Haggert said.