1. Opinion

Column: Clearwater should buy downtown aquarium property

Published Apr. 18, 2017

The city of Clearwater possesses the energetic, determined individuals necessary to broadly enrich our beautiful community. These leaders are busy making the city more accommodating to energy and liveliness. My fellow council members, city staff, our business and community leaders and our impassioned residents have the leadership resources to stimulate sustained economic growth throughout Clearwater.

The council has identified vibrancy, especially downtown, as being important for the future of our city. With expert consultants, we built an interconnected plan to foster economic activity in needy areas. I supported the innovative vision my fellow council members championed when they commissioned all components of the overall economic development plan.

I applaud the ongoing management of those components: Imagine Clearwater, the US 19 Corridor Redevelopment Plan, the Crest Lake Park Master Plan, the North Marina Master Plan and the Cleveland Street Redevelopment Plan. The completion of these synchronized projects will broaden the potential for the next generation of business and residential growth throughout Clearwater. The public investment for these initiatives will inspire private investment, showing Clearwater as open for business.

Moreover, I attribute the initial success of our economic development efforts to the incredible staff manning Clearwater's Planning and Development Department, Economic Development and Housing Department, and the Community Redevelopment Agency. These departments are guiding Clearwater's economic initiatives, ensuring they equitably contribute to our residents' livelihood.

During the design and planning phases of the development plans, our city staff championed a community based development approach. This means pursing a method that promotes and encourages the true voices of our community. By engaging a diverse array of business and community leaders, and residents throughout Clearwater, city staff optimized stakeholder participation and input. The plans meet the expressed needs of the community. This guarantees an outcome with the most potential for lasting success.

All of our economic development efforts have included public input. For example, city staff hosted public workshops at a variety of locations for residents to help steer Imagine Clearwater. These efforts translated into the beautiful plan that City Council recently unanimously accepted.

Our wholesome efforts to improve Clearwater will continue to champion community involvement. The community based development approach provides city residents a voice to guide the comprehensive redevelopment efforts touching their community, and I am a strong supporter of that approach. The most important source of leadership we have as a community, is our community itself. It is all of us, collectively.

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I will continue to ensure that the public has a seat at the table, and our citizens are our most important stakeholders.

That, fundamentally, is the reason I declined the Church of Scientology's request for an individual private meeting. The development of their retail strategy included no opportunities for the public to express their desires for the plan. How can I support a plan which shunned public involvement? The people of the City of Clearwater elect me, and I intend to represent their concerns.

That is why we will vote Thursday to purchase the Clearwater Marine Aquarium parcel just south of City Hall. Imagine Clearwater, a prototypical example of the community based development approach, encourages City Council to facilitate energy and activation along Osceola Avenue.

Based on the input gathered from the Imagine Clearwater's community workshops, we have been asked by the community to ensure this parcel of land provides additional value back to downtown: "[It] will anchor the south end of the park and Osceola corridor, and support Phase 2 buildout of the waterfront and Bluff." Therefore, it is our job to do what is best for all of Clearwater.

I urge the Church of Scientology to be more open to partnerships. A united downtown will yield better economic results for all stakeholders. But that requires mutual, coordinated steps toward compromise.

The City of Clearwater and downtown business advocacy groups understand that transparency and communication are key components of proper collaboration. Indeed, all stakeholders must adhere to the principles of integrity, communication and inclusivity.

We all must exemplify authenticity, truthfulness, and compromise, and there is opportunity for that, especially now.

Doreen Caudell is a member of the Clearwater City Council.


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