Clearwater readies bluff ballot question for voters

Residents will be asked to approve a residential, hotel and retail project for the waterfront bluff.
A rendering from the plan by the Gotham Organization and The DeNunzio Group for a hotel in the top center of the frame and two apartment towers to the right with both projects surrounding the future Coachman Park.
A rendering from the plan by the Gotham Organization and The DeNunzio Group for a hotel in the top center of the frame and two apartment towers to the right with both projects surrounding the future Coachman Park. [ The Bluffs development group ]
Published July 8, 2022

CLEARWATER — The City Council has settled on wording for the Nov. 8 ballot referendum that will ask voters whether the city should sell two downtown waterfront bluff parcels to make way for a $400 million redevelopment project.

The Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections limits ballot questions to 75 words. So the Council spent more than two hours Thursday night editing language to try to convey the developer’s plan for the 1.4-acre site of the now demolished Harborview Center at the corner of Osceola Avenue and Cleveland Street and the 2.6-acre old City Hall a half-block south.

They replaced “multi-family housing” with the word “apartments” so as not to give voters the impression these will be condos used seasonally. Council members also expanded “retail amenities” to say “retail, entertainment, restaurants and cultural uses” to be more specific.

Related: Clearwater council picks developer’s $400 million plan for downtown bluff

The council on July 21 is set to hold the first of two votes on an ordinance that will change the City Charter to allow for the sale of the bluff properties if voters pass the referendum on Nov. 8. The ballot language council agreed to put before voters reads:

Shall the Clearwater City Charter be amended to allow the City, instead of selling the vacant City Hall and a portion of the former Harborview sites to the highest bidder at a public auction, to sell the properties to Gotham Property Acquisitions and The DeNunzio Group; who will create approximately 600 apartments and 158-key hotel, retail, entertainment, restaurants and cultural uses available to all Clearwater residents, as further described and limited by City Ordinance 9597-22?

Council members also workshopped the proposed changes to the city charter, which specify minimum requirements that must be included in a development and purchase agreement.

The developers and city staff are still negotiating terms for that agreement, which will go before the Council for a vote on July 21, said City Attorney David Margolis.

Related: Clearwater affordable housing project is dead; land could go to Scientology

In its initial proposal to the city, the partnership of the Gotham Organization of New York and The DeNunzio Group of Pinellas County proposed paying the city $9.3 million for the Harborview site and $15.4 million for the old City Hall.

For Harborview, the group pitched building a 13-story, 158-room hotel with 15,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space, a conference center, a rooftop bar and pool and 163 below-ground parking spaces.

The plan includes two 27-story towers with a combined 600 rental units for the City Hall parcel, with 25,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space and 600 below-ground parking spaces.

But they’re still finalizing the deal so the financial terms and development plans could change.

The council agreed that, at minimum, the 30-year development agreement will include language requiring that retail and dining amenities remain accessible to the public; that apartments remain available for rent as opposed to condos; and that both sites include sustainability provisions and a prohibition of self-storage development.

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The two parcels surround the 22-acre city-owned waterfront and Coachman Park, which is currently undergoing an $84 million renovation. The Imagine Clearwater project, expected to be completed next year, will include an outdoor amphitheater, a garden, gateway plaza and promenade.