Clearwater voters have their best — and possibly last — opportunity to rejuvenate the city's downtown by clearing the way Tuesday for significant improvements to the waterfront. It's an important step to fully realizing the dynamic Imagine Clearwater plan to transform the waterfront into a more attractive destination with more amenities and expanded green space. While the referendum has no formal opposition, this is an opportunity for city residents to send a clear message about the future.
The city charter amendment on Tuesday's ballot would allow improvements on the downtown waterfront such as playgrounds, water features, artwork and restrooms. It also would allow plazas, sidewalks, trails, boardwalks and other such enhancements. Perhaps best of all, the green space in the area would more than double, to 19 acres of park space.
This is neither the first nor the last step toward making Imagine Clearwater a reality. Last year, city voters approved three referendums to allow the city to make modest improvements to the small downtown marina, move and expand the band shell in Coachman Park and expand the uses of the city's attractive library on the downtown bluff overlooking the harbor. Next spring, the Florida Legislature should approve legislation to remove outdated language in state law that bans carnivals or shows where the new band shell would be built.
The methodical approach to this effort to revitalize the downtown waterfront is succeeding where others failed for two reasons. As the Tampa Bay Times' Tracey McManus recently reported, earlier failed efforts lacked enough citizen input up front and were rejected by the voters. Some also involved private developers taking over large portions of the area. This time, the process is more gradual; grass-roots efforts have been ongoing; and this is largely a government effort at the moment. When it comes time redevelop the City Hall and Harborview Center sites with residential or retail projects, those would have to be separately approved by the voters.
In Clearwater, the only issues on Tuesday's ballot are extending Penny for Pinellas and the city charter amendment to allow the Imagine Clearwater effort to go forward. Those are two good reasons for city residents to make an extra effort to vote, and approving both will have a positive impact on Clearwater for years to come.