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Where to start in reviving downtown Clearwater?

In June, experts with the Urban Land Institute presented Clearwater with a large number of recommendations for its downtown.
Published Nov. 28, 2014

CLEARWATER

The job of reviving downtown Clearwater is so big that it's hard to know where to start.

It has now been five months since a panel of outside experts with the Urban Land Institute presented the city with a slew of far-reaching recommendations for its downtown.

That time lag has downtown boosters champing at the bit to get things going in the moribund district.

"The Urban Land Institute, a global organization some 32,000 strong, has spoken. They've laid out comprehensive recommendations, and this is not the time to delay," said Bill Sturtevant, chairman of the Clearwater Downtown Partnership. "Many in the private sector are on board to assist and participate in the process wherever they can."

But since the hired experts offered so many suggestions to consider, city staffers have only recently produced a roster of 48 separate "action items," prompting elected officials to begin picking priorities from among them.

Speaking at a recent public meeting on the ULI's recommendations, Mayor George Cretekos counseled patience.

"There a lot of people who wish we had a magic wand. Unfortunately, that doesn't happen when you're not at Hogwarts," he said, noting that Vice Mayor Doreen Hock-DiPolito had brought a wand from Diagon Alley, the new Harry Potter-themed expansion at Orlando's Universal Studios.

Here are some of the most significant things that city leaders are talking about for Clearwater's downtown:

Real estate: The city plans to more aggressively market the district's potential for further real estate development.

Workers will break ground soon on 255 apartments at Prospect Lake on the downtown core's eastern end. Beyond that, the ULI experts estimated the downtown market has capacity for 400-600 more apartments and 150-250 more condominiums.

"We need to create a downtown that's for and of the residents," said Assistant City Manager Rod Irwin. "It can't simply be an appendage of a wildly successful beach."

Boating culture: The experts recommended boosting services for boaters on downtown's waterfront.

Bearing that in mind, City Council members are interested in a developer's proposal to construct a new high-and-dry marina near the Seminole Boat Ramp on the northern edge of downtown. However, residents of the surrounding Old Clearwater Bay neighborhood are voicing opposition.

Business incubator: Hundreds of employees work at nearly two dozen tech firms around the downtown district. The city has long expressed support for the creation of a business incubator program for tech startups that are willing to locate downtown. Some in the private sector are working on this.

A master plan: The ULI told Clearwater to create a comprehensive master plan for downtown.

Some residents are urging city officials to get started on this. But council members are reluctant because they don't yet know the answer to a huge question — whether the Clearwater Marine Aquarium will really relocate to a larger new facility downtown. That would be a major change that would bring more Clearwater Beach tourists to the district.

The City Council will hold another public workshop on the Urban Land Institute's recommendations — after the first of the year.

Contact Mike Brassfield at brassfield@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4151. Follow @MikeBrassfield.

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