After decades of discussion about redeveloping downtown Clearwater, the city has made major headway in recent months that, if all goes well, should turn all that talk into action.
Since the start of fall, voters have approved two major projects, a local developer with big dreams took a first step and a new Community Redevelopment Agency plan is close to becoming a reality.
These moves, while maybe ho-hum occurrences in other localities, are a big leap forward for the city of Clearwater which has spent years — many years — looking at way to bring life to a downtown district that hasn’t seen much of it since the early 1980s.
What is coming could once and for all put the city’s downtown on par with Sarasota, St. Petersburg and Fort Myers. But just as it has taken years to get to this point, it is likely to take years for it all to come to fruition.
Despite that reality, there is a sense the future is bright.
In all, there are four major projects that are separate from one another but, when complete, will transform a chunk of the city’s downtown, near the water and across from Clearwater Beach and north to some underserved neighborhoods. These projects are also expected to bring restaurants, residences, offices and nightlife.
Work on one the first of these is already underway.
This the $84 million reimagining of Coachman Park, a waterfront park near what passes these days as the city’s commercial district and where generations of kids grew up going to concerts or to the main library.
The site today is a construction zone with crews building out the park. When done, the park will include a 4,000-seat covered amphitheater and a walkway along the Intercoastal Waterway. Along with those elements, there will be trails that connect the park to downtown, a lake with picnic areas and an ocean-themed play area with an interactive pop-jet water feature.
Work is expected to be complete by June.
Right by the park, there are plans for two other developments that will overlook the Intercoastal. A proposed change to the city charter that allowed for the sale of the properties was approved by 66% of voters in November referendum. One of the properties is directly next to the park and the other is about a half mile south. Both will be integrated into what's called the Imagine project.
The first of the two projects 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 sold 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 sold the property for $9.3 million, according to the sales agreement.
About a mile north, an Arizona developer who’s relocated to Clearwater is planning to buy 15 parcels on and near North Fort Harrison Avenue. He plans to build apartments, retail, office, hotel and luxury condos on the properties, which are now mostly a disparate collection of vacant lots in a somewhat rundown part of the city.
In late October, that firm, RSR Capital Advisors, announced it had closed on one of the properties — 708 Osceola Ave. — and will build 52 luxury condos on the spot.
The plan is to begin construction early next year and for the first project to be complete in 2024.
Rodney Riley, RSR’s principal and CEO, says there is a continued demand from people moving to Florida who want to buy high-end properties. He also expect there to be high demand from people in older homes in nearby high-dollar neighborhood like Belleair and portions of Clearwater Beach.
“There’s a lot of opportunity in this area,” Riley says. “It’s just going to take some time.”
Not far from where Riley is looking to build, community members are working on putting plans together for a proposed North Greenwood Community Redevelopment Area plan. Greenwood is a historically Black neighborhood with about 6,000 residents. It is primarily made up of residences with some commercial areas, light industrials, schools, churches and a library.
The proposed CRA plan is being driven, according to the draft report, by a desire to “reduce or eliminate blight, improve an area’s economic health and encourage public and private investment.”
Louis Llovio is the commercial real estate editor at the Business Observer. Before going to work at the Observer, the longtime business writer worked at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Maryland Daily Record and for the Baltimore Sun Media Group. He lives in Tampa.