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Should The Landings Golf Club become a light industrial complex?
The Times Editorial Board weighs in with a recommendation.
The sign at the entrance to The Landings Golf Club on Airport Drive in Clearwater.
The sign at the entrance to The Landings Golf Club on Airport Drive in Clearwater. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Oct. 5, 2020
Updated Oct. 5, 2020

Clearwater voters get to decide in the Nov. 3 election whether The Landings Golf Club can become a light industrial complex or not. A referendum on the ballot asks whether residents want to allow the city to lease most of the 77-acre property to a developer, who would build about 710,000 square feet of industrial manufacturing facilities, along with 8 acres of parkland and a 12-acre driving range. While we generally favor preserving what’s left of open spaces in Pinellas County, this is an exception.

The triangular-shaped property is bordered by an airpark and commercial businesses to the east and four-lane Keene Road and some apartments to the west. There is a residential neighborhood to the south. The developer proposes using the park and driving range as a buffer between that neighborhood and the industrial park. Also, this property will not become home to heavy “smokestack” industry. Likely tenants include medical manufacturers and other industries with a lighter footprint.

If the referendum passes, the developer will have to submit all of the local, county and state zoning and land use applications, city officials said. The city would still own the property.

Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard and other supporters of the proposed deal contend that the city needs more commercial businesses, including manufacturing and light industry. Taxes from residents cover 65 percent of the city’s operating budget, which is too high, they say. Projects like this one will help diversify the tax base.

The golf course, which is unlikely to stay in business no matter the outcome of the referendum, currently pays the city $12,000 in annual rent. The proposed industrial park will generate $9.7 million in net benefits over the first decade, according to the city’s economic and housing director. The developer estimated the complex will produce 1,700 direct jobs that pay an average of about $60,000 a year, and 1,581 spin-off jobs. That will help bolster the city’s job market, which still relies heavily on tourism.

Preserving land in a densely populated county should be a priority, but so too should be creating well-paying jobs. The county as a whole has other, better opportunities to set aside land. On the city of Clearwater referendum titled “Lease of Recreation/Open Space Real Property for Light Industrial Use,” the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board recommends voting Yes.

Related: All of the Times Editorial Board recommendations

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news