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Business Observer Friday, Aug. 5, 2022 1 month ago

Massive downtown redevelopment now goes to the voters

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Clearwater’s City Council approved two major projects that now need the approval of residents.
by: Louis Llovio Commercial Real Estate Editor

Clearwater’s City Council voted unanimously to move forward with two massive projects that are sure to change the face of the city’s downtown. The final say, however, will be up to voters in November.

“Tonight is really momentous on many levels,” Frank Hibbard, the city’s mayor, said prior to the Aug. 4 vote. “Between the development agreement, the sale agreement and the referendum item, it’s a very big night. And it’s a first step towards a much bigger and final and wonderful end. I’ve been looking forward to this for over 20 years, frankly.”

The mayor and his colleagues approved two major developments that will bring hundreds of apartments, hotel rooms and retail development to two properties currently owned by the city. These will run alongside and, in a way, be integrated with, the $84 million Imagine Clearwater, a reimagination of Coachman Park which sits on the waterfront.

The developers are Gotham Properties from New York and The DeNunzio Group from Palm Harbor.

These two projects, proponents say, will dramatically change, and improve, the look and feel of downtown, an area that’s long been moribund, and will be built on two parcels that have a long history in Clearwater.

The first is on Osceola and Cleveland Streets on the former site of what was Harborview Center. For longtime residents of the city, the property is best remembered as the home of the Maas Brothers department store, which for 30 years, until it closed in 1991, was the center of downtown life in Clearwater.

The plan is for two buildings to go up on that site —  a 13-story, 150-room hotel on the north side of the property and a two-story, 12,000-square-foot building for retail on the south. There will be an underground parking component as well.

The city is selling the property for $15.4 million, according to the sales agreement.

The second project is on the site of the former Clearwater City Hall building. It will include a single building with a podium and two 27-story residential towers with up to 600 units as well as 40,000 square feet of retail. 

The city is selling the property for $9.3 million, according to the sales agreement.

At the Aug. 4 meeting, city council members were told that each of the buildings would give the general public access to Coachman Park as well as bring density to the area. Other agreements include, barring self-storage facilities and nightclubs, unless in the hotel, and limiting amplified music.

The next step will be convincing city residents.

“It’s up to us now to get out and really get this sold to the general public,” says David Allbritton, who’s on Seat 4 of the council. “The next big hurdle is the referendum. We’ve been through a few referendums that have kind of gone south. This is the best I’ve seen, and I’m really glad we’re here tonight.”

For his part, Hibbard promised there would be “a lot of public meetings” in the coming months as council members work to persuade residents that these projects are right for the city.

How the public will respond, for now at least, is anyone’s guess.

If voters do approve the projects it will be just a step in what’s looking as a potential major change for down Clearwater and the surrounding area.

A Clearwater real estate developer is looking to massively transform the city’s Marina District with more than $350 million in development that includes multifamily housing, retail, office, hotel and luxury condos on 15 parcels it’s buying.

RSR Capital Advisors says it is purchasing the 15 parcels from multiple sellers and expects to close on the first property sometime this summer and the other parcels as the project takes shape.

The properties are located north of downtown Clearwater along North Osceola Avenue, North Fort Harrison Avenue and North Garden Avenue. Most of the parcels are currently vacant.

While plans are still in the early stages, the developer says the goal is to build luxury condos close to the Dillion Clearwater Basin Marina at 880 N. Osceola Ave. and for office, retail, workforce housing, apartments and hotel components to go on sites farther from Clearwater Harbor.

Not far from where RSR has its plans, the city is working on the proposed North Greenwood Community Redevelopment Area.

North Greenwood, according to the city, is a historically Black neighborhood primarily made up of residences with some commercial areas, light industrials, schools, churches and a library.

The idea behind forming the CRA is to “carry out redevelopment activities that reduce or eliminate blight, improve an area’s economic health and encourage public and private investment.”

Groups of residents have been gathering since January to map out the future. The effort, the city says, is being led by a steering committee made up of residents, businesses and community members “to help the city guide the process.”

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