CLEARWATER — If all goes according to plan, it could still be at least six years before hotel, apartment and retail projects are built on two downtown bluff parcels.
But the city and its development partners, Gotham Property Acquisitions and The DeNunzio Group, have completed a crucial first step by finalizing terms for the development agreement that will guide the $400 million vision.
The City Council on Thursday tabled a vote on the development agreement until Aug. 4 so typos and wording errors in the document could be cleaned up. But council members expressed confidence in the deal and how it could bring life to the downtown that has struggled for decades.
“We are a long way behind our other neighbors and municipalities,” Council Member David Allbritton said. “We’ve languished over here in Clearwater. This is going to pop us right on top again, kind of what St. Pete did 20 years ago.”
City staff and the development group highlighted how the configuration of the bluff projects aim to complement the adjacent Coachman Park, which is undergoing an $84 million renovation expected to be completed in summer 2023.
“It really is about, ‘How do you create energy in a downtown?’” said Frank Domingo, a senior project manager with engineering firm Stantec, who is working for the developer. “It’s not with cars, it’s with people, it’s people’s feet walking, it’s people’s feet walking in through mixed use. That’s what we’ve designed.”
For a portion of the Harborview site at the corner of Osceola Avenue and Cleveland Street, the plan calls for a 158-room hotel with retail and restaurant space, a conference center, a rooftop bar and pool, and a two story commercial building. The plan includes underground parking with 169 spaces, 50 of which will be dedicated to city use.
The City Hall site will include two apartment towers with between 500 to 600 units and retail and restaurant space. The underground parking will be a 1:1 ratio to the units built, the minimum required by city code, according to Katie Cole an attorney representing the development group.
Cole said the developer has committed to providing a total of 769 parking spaces, so if fewer than 600 apartments are built at the City Hall site, the remaining parking spots will be transferred to the hotel site. A final site plan is expected in April 2023, she said.
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The project is dependent on a voters approving the sale of the parcels in a ballot question on Nov. 8. If the referendum passes, the sale would close no later than Dec. 31, 2024, according to the agreement.
The developer has offered to pay $15.4 million for City Hall and $9.3 million for the Harborview parcel.
Cole said construction could take four years and the hotel and one apartment tower would be built first.
The agreement allows for construction on one site to proceed even if financing on the other falls through. The city will be responsible for demolishing the old City Hall building and any environmental remediation.
The city will provide $25.5 million in incentives: $22 million for the underground parking paid by the parking fund; $1.5 million from the Community Redevelopment Agency for impact fees; and up to $2 million to split the cost of a pedestrian bridge, which will connect the two sites.
Council Member Kathleen Beckman said the project could be “transformative” but she lamented that her idea to require the developer include 10% affordable housing units at 120% the area median income was not supported by her council colleagues.
She also pushed for more sustainability measures, like rooftop solar, which also got no support.
The agreement requires the developer to make 10% of all parking spaces be electric vehicle capable and 5% electric vehicle ready. Construction will follow silver level Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards.
“We’ve watched these sites be underutilized for literally decades,” Mayor Frank Hibbard said. “It’s time to partner and help downtown reach its full potential.”