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Time to get outdoors to play: Springtime spawns local art festivals

As part of its efforts to revive Station Square Park, the city of Clearwater is holding the first in a series of paint parties/art bazaars at the Cleveland Street Park. Painting in the Park - Art Bazaar at Station Square Park kicks off from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday, April 1, and continues on the first and third Saturdays through June.

“It’s going to be a real active event with lots of art and live music, an open-air painting class,” says Jennie Pearl, the event coordinator, an artist who will teach the $35 painting class. “It’s going to grow. So far we’ve had such a wonderful response.”

The free event sponsored by the city of Clearwater’s Community Redevelopment Agency and Parks and Recreation Department, also features live music by Sal Belloise (known as Guitar Sal), art by Kelly Strong, beer and wine tasting, body/face painting and unique vendors offering items like Hawaiian Island soaps and wearable-art clothing.

A muralist, Pearl still is recruiting for the upcoming events. “I’m looking for comedians, jugglers, hoola hoopers, massage therapists,” says Pearl, who won the 2016 Clearwater’s Downtown Gateway Art Project. “It’s all the arts."

Plans developed after visitors were polled at a grand reopening of the park in February. “They wanted art, they wanted music and entertainment,” says Laura Canary, Community Redevelopment Coordinator. “They also wanted … some type of adult component, some kind of nightlife in the park as well.”

Meanwhile in Tampa, the 6th Annual International Cuban Sandwich Art and Food Festival is underway from noon until 6 p.m. Saturday, April 1, at Hillsborough Community College in Ybor City. Saturday’s agenda? Trying to make the largest Cuban sandwich. The event continues from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday, with competitors worldwide competing for awards.

The Safety Harbor Songfest is taking place April 1 and 2 at Safety Harbor Music and Art Center and Waterfront Park, featuring the Wood Brothers, Rising Appalachia, and more. It supports the nonprofit art center’s events; music begins at 11 a.m. both days.

The Tampa Bay Blues Festival is coming to Vinoy Park in St. Petersburg April 7, 8, and 9.  The event kicks off with Dennis Gruenling at 12:30 p.m. Friday, and includes The Rides with Stephen Stills, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, and Barry Goldberg Saturday at 8:30 p.m.

Organizers of the free, two-day Mainsail Art Festival April 22 and 23, who are expecting to draw some 100,000, also are gearing up for the juried art competition at Vinoy Park. Some $60,000 will be awarded to prize winners at the festival, which began in 1976 when the city’s Bicentennial Committee, the St, Petersburg Recreation Department and St. Petersburg Arts Commission collaborated on a sidewalk arts and colonial crafts festival.

“It wasn’t a juried show. Now it’s one of the top in the country,” says Lisa Wells, who chairs the all-volunteer planning committee. “The prize money’s grown, everything’s grown. ... The quality has gotten better.”

The event, sponsored by the city, Junior League of St. Petersburg, and Tampa Bay Times, was among the top 20 best shows by Wisconsin-based Sunshine Artist magazine in 2016.

The festival, which draws more than 250 exhibiting artists, runs from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. April 22 and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 23. The lineup includes Jah Movement Reggae Band at noon April 22,  Souliz at 4:30 p.m. April 22, and singer-songwriter-instrumenalist Damon Fowler at 3:45 p.m. April 23.

The city is seeking volunteers, who can signup online.

Here are some other art-related events planned in the Tampa Bay area during April.

Broad Comedy, a benefit for Planned Parenthood, is slated from 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. April 6 at Ybor’s CL Space, 1911 N. 13th St. It features standup comics Robin Savage and Becca Childs, along with writers Lori Shannon and Cathy Salustri.

• Coffee lovers can check out the Tampa Bay Coffee and Art Festival from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. April 8 at The Noise Box, 1310 John Moore Road, Brandon. The festival features craft coffee roasters from Florida and local artists, food trucks and desserts.

• The Latin Music Festival is slated April 8 at 5730 Shore Blvd. S., Gulfport. The concert, on Boca Ciega Bay from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m., will include recording artists Orchestra Fuego, The Latin Jazz Knights, Freddy Montez, Victor J. Moreno with Esther Suarez, and Eddie Garrido. It is the first of a series of annual Latin Music Festivals. Admission is $15; children under 10 are free.

• Gulfport’s annual Springfest Garden Art and Faerie Festival is slated from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. April 14 and 15 at Clymer Park at 5501 27th Ave. S. Renaissance-era characters will roam at the event featuring a Good Friday Fish Fry, May Pole dances, a costume contest, and live music. Admission is free; complimentary parking is offered. More information is available at Springfest's Facebook page or 727-322-5217.

The SunLit Festival kicks off with a party from 7 to 9 p.m. April 6 at the Chihuly Collection in St. Petersburg. The third annual event runs April 10 through 25, bringing together literary organizations and others.

• The Florida Antiquarian Book Fair, in its 36th year, is slated April 21 to April 23 at St. Petersburg Coliseum. The fair is a mecca for book lovers, offering books on just about any topic.


$130M Belleair development ramps up on site of historic Belleview Biltmore Hotel

Once the winter playground for wealthy northerners escaping the cold, the Belleview Biltmore Hotel first opened to the public in 1897. Thomas Edison, Babe Ruth, the Duke of Windsor, many U.S. presidents, and even singer Bob Dylan were among guests of the Clearwater hotel that enjoyed a reputation as the “White Queen of the Gulf [of Mexico].”

Built by railroad magnet Henry Plant, the hotel sat on the bluff overlooking Clearwater Harbor and had distinctive Victorian-era architecture with an iconic New England-style white wood exterior and green-sloped roof, Tiffany-era leaded glass and beautiful oak tongue and groove heart pine flooring.

According to JMC Communities, Plant built the hotel to increase tourist traffic to the area and promote future Florida real estate development, in which he had invested. The site not only had clear views of Clearwater’s harbor, but there was a freshwater spring nearby.

The original hotel had 145 rooms, each with a view of the Gulf, and was constructed with native Florida pine. A second building housed hotel employees during the “four month season.” The hotel was not occupied during the summer until the 1950s when air conditioning was added. Like many similar luxury hotels in the Tampa Bay region, it was occupied by troops during World War II.

After more than a century of activity, the hotel closed in 2009, and began a steady decline toward disrepair, due to age, lack of maintenance and neglect. Its future was uncertain and controversial, with many area residents fighting to see the building preserved and various developers considering its demolition.

In 2015, JMC Communities, led by CEO Mike Cheezem, bought the hotel and 20-acre property for $6.2 million with the vision of creating an upscale residential development of condos and townhomes.

In what Cheezem calls a “win-win” for the hotel’s legacy, JMC Communities invested another $13 million to rescue, relocate and renovate a 38,000-square-foot section of the hotel that included the lobby and 35 guest rooms.  

“The portion we decided to save was the most architecturally striking and had been there the longest and was the best built,” says Cheezem.

Today, the historic structure is part of the Belleview Inn, a new boutique hotel and amenity center that serves as the centerpiece of Belleview Place, JMC Communities new residential community built on the former Belleview Biltmore Hotel site.

“It was just so evident how important it was to preserve all the memories associated with the hotel,” says Cheezem.  This was a popular place for weddings, graduation parties and reunions, and it was certainly a landmark structure that stood out not only for the region but also the whole state of Florida.  

“Back in 1897 this area was just a wilderness and the hotel really was a catalyst for developing the west coast of Florida,” says Cheezem. “People were coming down in their own private railroad cars and staying for the season.”

Plans call for Belleview Place to have a total of 131 residences, a combination of 104 mid-rise condominiums and 28 two-story carriage homes/townhomes. Cheezem estimates the projected value of the new community to be around $130 million at completion.

The first of four condo buildings, the Allamanda, is now under construction and fully sold out, says Cheezem. Sales for the second building, Brightwater, started in March.  

The first residents are expected to move in by early 2018. Residents will have access to all of the amenities in the new development and to the adjacent Belleair Country Club, which features two championship golf courses, a marina, fitness center and resort pool, as well as restaurant and bar.

In addition to JMC Design & Development, key professionals involved in the community’s development include architects BSB Design; civil engineers Florida Design Consultants; and Phil Graham Landscape Architecture.  

Additional professionals include the Tamara Peacock Company, the designer and conceptual architect for the Belleview Inn; Decker Ross Interiors, interior design for the Belleview Place Carriage Homes; Kay Green Design, interior design for the condominiums; and Sims Patrick Studio, interior design for the Belleview Inn.

In a news release about the community, Cheezem says: “No other community in Florida boasts such a fascinating and treasured history and such a unique combination of amenities: a fabulous location on a Clearwater bluff, two championship golf courses and a restored, boutique inn that continues the legacy and elegance of the Belleview Biltmore Hotel.”

Pop-up project focuses on North Marina street improvements in Clearwater

Just north of Clearwater’s downtown, the North Marina area has long boasted its own distinct identity separate from the nearby urban hub, says Lawrence Young, Jr., the city’s neighborhoods coordinator.

Clearwater Bay borders the area to the west, while the Pinellas Trail runs along its eastern edge. Cedar and Eldridge Streets serve as North Marina’s northern and southern anchors, respectively. The neighborhood also includes several city landmarks: the Seminole Boat Launch, the Francis Wilson Playhouse and North Ward Elementary School.

The North Marina area has so much potential that the city has eyed the neighborhood for improvements over the past several years. At the end of 2015, it finalized and approved a North Marina Master Plan, which covers about 64 acres, to rejuvenate the area.

So last summer, when the city’s Planning and Development Department launched a separate program, a new pop-up event series, targeting neighborhoods in need of streetscape upgrades, North Marina was an obvious first choice. “We’re able to test recommendations from that [master] plan,” Young says. 

Through temporary installations and enhancements made to existing streets within the North Marina neighborhood, Pop-up North Marina: A Community Streets Experiment offers city staff a way to study how to improve the overall experience for pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers in the area before making permanent changes.

Implemented with the help of community residents, impermanent roadway enhancements made to North Marina streets include painted pavement and sidewalk art, sidewalk extensions, on-street parking, improved landscaping, and community benches. For instance, Young says, they temporarily reduced lanes on Ft. Harrison Avenue and dedicated the extra space to pedestrians.
Volunteers extended the sidewalk on that roadway and installed planters designed by children at the North Greenwood Recreation Center.

“The area already has an identity,” Young says. “They need something to activate and bring it all together to attract more businesses and residents to the area. This project could really bring it to life.”

Though the community gathered to celebrate the temporary changes at a Jan. 28 festival, the installation will remain in place for two months. This will give residents and city officials alike the chance to test them out. Some of these temporary enhancements could become permanent in the future, says Young.

This “unique” event is the first of its kind in Clearwater, he adds, and hopefully won’t be the last, given the success of the pop-up event so far. Though the city hasn’t named the next neighborhood to receive similar treatment, they’ll base their decision on comments received from residents throughout the city. Young encourages residents to reach out to him via email.

In the meantime, Young is excited about the possibilities in North Marina. The timing of the pop-up event is perfect, he adds, since the city held its first meeting to discuss the implementation of Phase One of the North Marina Master Plan Jan. 25. “We’re excited about everything and seeing it come to life,” Young says. “We can’t wait to activate this space.”

St. Pete-Clearwater airport continues renovations, on track to serve record number of travelers

Construction at St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport is moving along as planned, and the growing airport is on target to serve the most passengers in its history -- 1.8 million.
 
The airport has been modernizing its terminal since 2008. According to Michele Routh, the airport's PR Director, the first and second phases of the project included adding a chiller plant for the HVAC system; updating plumbing systems; adding two passenger loading bridges; renovating Gates 2-6 hold rooms for expanded seating, square footage, restrooms and restaurant areas; and addressing other infrastructure issues.
 
Most of the airport's passengers -- about 95 percent -- are served by Allegiant Air, which was moved from Ticketing B to Ticketing A because an inline baggage system was added there during the second phase of the project.
 
"It processes bags quicker," Routh says of the inline system.
 
The third phase of the project began in April and includes adding an inline baggage system to Ticketing B. In September, the airport received a $753,979 grant from the Transportation Security Administration for the design of the new system. An additional grant for $300,000 had already been awarded from the Florida Department of Transportation Aviation Funding. The total design cost is $1,070,302.
 
"Once we get this designed and get it built, then Allegiant will get back to Ticketing B where there's more counter space, and they'll have the inline system." Routh says.
 
The third phase of the project also includes a major focus on Gates 7-10, as well as adding checkpoints, restrooms, restaurant space and a play area for kids designed by Great Explorations Children's Museum.
 
"We're adding 12,000 square feet to the Gates 7-10 area," Routh says, which includes an additional 450 seats.
 
The airport has also added a third checkpoint for Gates 2-6, and will add a third checkpoint for Gates 7-10 by the time the third phase of the project is completed, which is estimated to be in summer 2017.
 
Additionally, the airport opened a cell phone parking lot over the summer, will update its master plan next summer, and plans to build a parking garage in the future.
 
All of the projects are meant to accommodate the airport's travelers, who have more than tripled in the past 10 years.
 
"The growth we've had in the last decade since Allegiant and Sunwing joined us has been a 322 percent increase," Routh says.
 
She says the airport is proud of its customer service and its commitment to heavily compete for grants to fund its projects. The airport has no debt service and has spent $76 million over the last 10 years. It plans to spend $142 million in renovation projects in the next 10 years.
 
"We're very excited about all the developments," Routh says. "As we go through them, our challenge is making it as easy on our passengers as we possibly can."

City of Clearwater wants you to reimagine what waterfront could be #design

Clearwater’s downtown waterfront is closer than ever to receiving a much-needed facelift, says Seth Taylor, the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency director.

Imagine Clearwater, a community-focused visioning and master planning effort to revitalize the waterfront and bluff, will present its new vision for the area at two public workshops set for Tuesday, Nov. 29, at 6:30 p.m. at Countryside Library, 2642 Sabal Springs Dr., and Wednesday, Nov. 30, at 6:30 p.m. at the Downtown Clearwater Main Library, 100 North Osceola Ave.

New York City-based HR&A Advisors, which specializes in urban development, and Sasaki, an international architecture firm, has been hired by the city as consultants for the redevelopment project. The city has set aside $400,000 for consultation alone, Taylor says.

HR&A and Sasaki have been “working to create a new vision for our downtown waterfront, which is one of our biggest assets in Clearwater and certainly in downtown Clearwater,” he says.

The area, which includes around 50 acres, runs from Drew Street north to Court Street and from the waterfront west to Osceola Avenue.

Taylor says two factions have risen up in the community: those who desire “a natural, passive open space” for the waterfront and residents who wish to see “a more active, intensively programmed space.”

He adds, “We’re trying to strike a balance between the two. Ultimately, it’s about getting people to visit downtown Clearwater and enjoy their time there.”

Currently, the area is underutilized, he says, adding that while it is home to Coachman Park, which hosts a number of events throughout the year, there are more possibilities for the space.

While Imagine Clearwater’s vision will include commercial uses, green space and activities for children, the community should also expect to see a suggested residential component, Taylor says. 

“The key to revitalization is we need more housing downtown, we need more people who live and work there,” he says. “So there will be a recommendation for more housing along the waterfront and bluff.”

There is no timeframe or budget set for the project yet. Both will be determined by the final version of the project approved by the City Council down the road, Taylor says.

“But the will is there to implement this plan both from the elected leaders and the civic and community groups,” he says.

Those interested in learning more about the project should follow this link to the Imagine Clearwater website.

More trails for walking, bicycling coming to Pinellas County thanks to state SUN Trail program

The Florida Department of Transportation has awarded $44,345,430 to 45 projects across the state, and Pinellas County received $7,062,488 of that total.
 
The majority of the money earmarked for Pinellas, $5.7 million, will go toward the second phase of the Pinellas Trail Loop from John Chestnut Park to Enterprise Road in Palm Harbor. The rest, almost $1.4 million, will go toward the Ream Wilson Clearwater Trail from the Courtney Campbell Causeway to Bayshore Boulevard.
 
The money comes from the state's Shared Use Nonmotorized or SUN Trail program, which was established in 2015 and is meant to help Floridians enjoy safe, recreational opportunities. The SUN Trail network consists of the developing statewide system of paved, multi-use trails for bicyclists and pedestrians, physically separated from vehicular traffic.
 
The projects span 21 counties throughout Florida and include the construction of 11 separate trail segments, which will add or improve approximately 20 miles of trail to Florida’s trail system. Another 34 projects will be in various pre-construction phases of work, such as feasibility study, environmental review and design.
 
Pinellas was the only county in the Tampa Bay area to receive funding.

"Combining multiple trail projects into an integrated statewide system requires coordination and a concerted effort," says Robin Birdsong, SUN Trail program manager. "The two projects in Pinellas County highlight how funding provided through the SUN Trail Program can help agencies leverage local funds, close trail gaps, and improve safety while enhancing multimodal transportation options."
 
The two Pinellas projects are part of five total projects that will help advance the Coast to Coast Connecter a 250-mile trail system linking the Gulf and Atlantic coasts through Central Florida.
 
Seventeen other projects are part of the St. Johns River Sea Loop, a 270-mile trail system that will link several communities, including St. Augustine, Daytona Beach, Titusville, DeLand and Palatka.
 
The other 23 projects are for individual trail segments throughout the rest of the state.

New St. Petersburg College library will serve students, community

A new library is under construction on the St. Petersburg College Clearwater Campus.

SPC and the City of Clearwater have partnered to develop the joint-use facility where students can focus on the academic pursuits and residents can enjoy cultural enrichment opportunities. It replaces the current library built in 1964.

"The campus’s existing library is over 50 years old and reflects the needs of college students half a century ago," says Dr. Stan Vittetoe, SPC Clearwater Campus Provost. "Current students need more collaborative study spaces and technology resources."

Construction on the new 43,515-square-foot library began in June. The building will stand two stories tall and include an open-space concept. The $15 million facility will house more than 90,000 electronic and print books. It is expected to be complete in February 2018.

“St. Petersburg College is committed to the communities where our students and faculty live,” SPC President Bill Law says in a prepared statement. “This partnership allows the college and the City of Clearwater to serve the needs of our citizens and students in one place.”

SPC operates two other joint-use libraries in Pinellas County with the cities of St. Petersburg and Seminole.

The new library is the latest representation of SPC's growth. In the last decade, enrollment has increased by 23 percent, Shaw says. This semester, there are 9,936 students enrolled at the Clearwater campus, and about 66 percent of them will attend classes face-to-face.

The college now has more than 100 academic programs in Business, Information Technology, Education, Health, Paralegal Studies and many other fields. An Ethics and Social Sciences building with 26 classrooms opened in 2013, and a Math and Science building opened in 2008.

Developers, architects transform Clearwater bank building into SkyView luxury condos

A former Clearwater bank will find new life as a luxury condominium when it opens to residents next year.
 
The SkyView at 400 Cleveland St. is a collection of 51 condos designed by Gomez Vazquez International Architects. The location was formerly the AmSouth bank building, and the complex will incorporate the original structure by reinforcing the steel and concrete framework initially designed to house the bank’s vault.
 
Construction on the project began in October 2014, and the first phase is nearly finished, according to Alvaro Gonzalez Guerra Gomez, the architecture firm's principal of North America. The firm has designed more than 200 lifestyle developments worldwide since it was founded in 1968, although this is the first in the Tampa Bay area.
 
The first phase entails "gutting and demolition of the existing facade, core of the building, stairwell and elevator shafts to make way for 38 units in place of the previous bank offices," Gonzalez says.
 
"This, of course, includes the amenities -- pool, fitness center, kids club, smoothie bar, and the vault room, which was transformed into a room where the condo owners can have cozy get-togethers."
 
Other amenities include a spa and an amenities deck with resort-style day beds and views of the Gulf of Mexico.
 
"It’s the ultimate escape and destination for relaxing and socializing," Gonzalez says.
 
All units will have two bedrooms and two bathrooms, Gonzalez says. The average size will be 1,300 square feet. Prices will range from $260,000 to $890,000 and depend on the view, the floor and the terrace space.
 
Although developers Moises and Cleman Agami decline to disclose their total investment in the project, Paulette Agami, design manager and spokeswoman, says they want to bring "a fresh, contemporary and chic architectural landmark" to Clearwater that features "an air of high design and clean lines."
 
"That’s precisely what was accomplished," she says. "When potential buyers or visitors walk into The SkyView showroom, there are, without fail, remarks about the good taste that we have brought downtown."
 
The entire project is expected to be complete in March 2017.

New apartments, hotel grow along Courtney Campbell Causeway

The Courtney Campbell Causeway, the picturesque boulevard connecting Tampa and Clearwater across Tampa Bay, is experiencing new private investments designed to attract more people to the Causeway as a destination. Here are two examples: 

Seazen

Situated where the Chart House restaurant once stood at 7616 Courtney Campbell Trail will soon be a multi-family housing community known as Seazen. With over 320 units, the apartments will offer one-, two- and three-bedroom floor plans ranging from approximately 600 to 1,600 square feet. There will also be plenty of amenities.

“Seazen’s amenity package features a 12,000-square-foot clubhouse, membership-grade fitness center with yoga and spinning classrooms plus an on-demand virtual fitness trainer,” says Beth Alonzo of ZOM, Inc., which is the developer of the project. “There will also be two resort-style pools, four waterfront courtyards, a pet salon, bark park as well as an aqua lounge waterfront amenity center featuring paddle-boards, kayaks and on-site boat slips.

First units are expected to be available summer 2018. For more information, visit Zom Inc’s website.
 
Autograph Collection Marriott on Rocky Point

Also located along the Courtney Campbell Causeway is Rocky Point, an inlet of restaurants, offices and hotels. One of the newer hotels to go up in Rocky Point, is a new Autograph Collection Marriott. The Autograph Collection hotels offer luxurious accommodations and refined ambiance. With only 100 hotels of its kind globally, this will be the second one in the Tampa Bay area, joining the Epicurean in Tampa.

Lifsey Real Estate Holdings in collaboration with Pinnacle Hotel Management is behind the 180-room boutique hotel. The new structure will be nine-stories with a restaurant and rooftop bar. Construction is expected to be completed by the end of 2016. 

4 Clearwater Beach bridges are being replaced

Four bridges in the Island Estates community of Clearwater are being replaced.

It started when someone kayaking under one of the bridges noticed degrading concrete and reported it to the city of Clearwater.

“We hired a consultant to do a study and when we got the reports back we found out the bridges needed to be replaced,” says Roger Johnson, Project Manager for the city of Clearwater.

Johnson explains the process is quite complex, involving demolition of the bridges, which is not easy when these roadways are the only access point to the fingers of the Island Estates community. In order to replace them, the city has to demolish one side at a time, while using the other side as two-way traffic for people to get back and forth. Once one side is completed, construction can begin on the other side.

Minor repairs are being made to an additional five bridges in the community. The total cost of the project is $3.6 million.
So how are other bridges in Clearwater fairing?

“The FDOT inspects our bridges regularly and provides reports on their findings,” Johnson says. “For now we don’t see anything substantial in the foreseeable future, of course if something shows up then we will obviously address the issue.”

As for the construction on the Island Estate bridges, progress is moving forward and construction is expected to be completed April 2017.

For the most up-to-date information on road closures, and construction updates on the project visit the city’s engineering website.

St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport undergoes $9.8M renovation

Airports in the Tampa Bay area are getting bigger and better, including St. Pete-Clearwater International, which just announced its renovation plans for its terminals. This follows the recent announcement made by Tampa International Airport of the opening of the first few new restaurants and retail as part of a $953 million renovation master plan.

At St. Pete-Clearwater International in North St. Petersburg close to Largo and Clearwater, a $9.8 million project will add 12,000-square-feet to gates seven through 10 as well as an additional 350 new seats to the waiting area by those gates.

“The terminal renovation project is needed to meet our passenger growth,” says Michele Routh of St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport (PIE).

The passenger screening checkpoint area will go from two lanes to three in an effort to expedite wait times. Other improvements taking place in gates seven through 10 include renovations to retail and food and beverage concessions, a new children’s play area and renovated restrooms.

“The airport will be fully functioning during the renovations,” Routh says.

Restrooms will be renovated and expanded in baggage claim, the restaurant on the second floor and in the operations wing. All of these renovations will include upgrades to meet ADA requirements. A new mechanical control room will be added as well.   

“For over three years we have been growing by double digits,” St. Pete-Clearwater Airport Director Tom Jewsbury stated in a news release. “Although the construction phase will present challenges, the end result will be worth it for our passengers' comfort and convenience.”

Construction is expected to start next month. The Artec Group will be handling all of the renovations, and the project is expected to be completed in summer 2017.

Brand new, renovated Bay Area hotels ready for spring break visitors

With Spring Break just around the corner, hotels in the Tampa Bay area are getting ready to host an influx of tourists, including four hotels now under construction and/or undergoing renovation projects designed to meet increasing demand from tourists and other visitors.

Loews Don CeSar

Located near St. Petersburg Beach, Loews Don CeSar is the historic pink palace built in 1928. In addition to two pools, an 11,000-square-foot spa and an award-winning seafood restaurant, the hotel is adding a new bar to the list of amenities.

The Rowe Bar, which opened earlier this month at the Don CeSar, represents a $1.8 million investment by Loews.

“This is a brand new space that seats 200,” says Jeff Abbaticchio, Director of Public Relations for the hotel. “The new bar includes an interior space as well as an outdoor area featuring three fire pits and an outdoor fireplace.”

In addition to the Rowe Bar, Loews has been working on another project within the Don CeSar family of hotels.

Beach House Suites by Loews Don CeSar

A few blocks north of the Don CeSar, Loews 30-year-old Beach House Suites recently completed an $8 million renovation to its 70 suites, which offer guests one-bedroom lodging complete with kitchen space and a washer and dryer.

”All 70 suites were renovated to offer more spacious and contemporary space for our guests,” Abbaticchio says. “Beach House Suites is the perfect lodging solution for guests coming to the area from overseas or staying for an extended vacation because it has all the amenities you need, like a kitchen and washer and dryer. Plus we offer a complimentary shuttle service between Beach House Suites and the Don CeSar so guests can enjoy all that the Don CeSar has to offer.”

Opal Sands Resort

Drive down Gulfview Boulevard in Clearwater Beach to find the crescent-shaped building that is Opal Sands Resort, the latest hotel to open on the world-famous beach.

The shape of the building guarantees every visitor a view of the Gulf, according to Opal Sands General Manager Jeff Castner.

This luxury resort, which had a soft opening in early March, is 15-stories, features 230 rooms and cost $50 million to build.
 
Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Tampa

Situated at 5223 Orient Road in Tampa, the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino is visible from Interstate 4 and adjacent to the MIDFLORIDA Credit Union Amphitheatre. The hotel features a spa, salon, restaurants, stores and of course a casino.

As large as the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino already is there are plans in the works for it to get even bigger. Last week, the Seminole Tribe of Florida met with Florida Gov. Rick Scott and unveiled its plans for a $1.8 billion expansion for its Hollywood and Tampa hotel locations.

For the Tampa hotel, plans include a second tower with 500 new rooms, a helipad, five retail stores, a new lobby bar as well as new dinning and meeting spaces.
 
A construction start date for this project has not been set. 

New bicycle/pedestrian path connects Clearwater to Safety Harbor in Pinellas County

Good news for local and visiting pedestrians and bicyclists as the city of Clearwater announces the completion of an extended path running along Bayshore Boulevard on the eastern edge of the city along Cooper Bayou and Old Tampa Bay.

The trail, which connects the Courtney Campbell Causeway to Ream Wilson Trail at Del Oro Park is expected to be completed by today, March 1st.
 
“Providing bicycle and pedestrian accommodation is important for multimodal transportation alternatives, economic development and recreation for the city,” says Felicia Donnelly with the parks and recreation department for the City of Clearwater.
 
Donnelly says this connection will be among several other pedestrian and bicycle trail unions throughout the city, including Duke Energy, CSX, Druid Connection, Landmark Drive and Belleair trails. The city’s master plan for proposed bicycle and pedestrian paths proposes adding over 25 miles dedicated to trails throughout Clearwater.
 
The Druid Trail, which is expected to be completed later this year, will be a four-mile multiple use section along Druid Road. It will connect to the Pinellas Trail and residential areas, as well as Clearwater High School and Glen Oaks Park.
 
The city hopes that the connection between the Courtney Campbell Causeway and Ream Wilson Trail will open up a traffic-free path for pedestrians and bicyclists from Cypress Point Park to downtown Clearwater and north to Safety Harbor. With the master plan, the expectation is the network of trails will link the beaches to the Pinellas Trail, which runs North to South through Pinellas County.  
 
The trail will be complete with two bike fix-it stations where bicyclists can fix minor problems to their bikes without having to leave the trail. The city plans to install six more stations along the trails by the beginning of the summer.

Memorial for veterans to open in Clearwater park

Driving down Gulf-to-Bay in Clearwater, you may have noticed fencing around Crest Lake Park. Wondering what is going on?
 
Well, the city of Clearwater, along with the Tampa Bay Veterans Alliance has decided to add a veteran’s memorial area to the park. Crest Lake Park was chosen given its visibility and access to Gulf-to-Bay.
 
Even though the memorial will be new, it already has historic significance.
 
“The Tampa Bay Veterans Alliance, established as Clearwater Veterans Alliance, developed the Florida Veterans’ Memorial concept to establish the first cross-generational veteran’s memorial in the State of Florida,” says Jason Beisel with the city of Clearwater.  “There exists no other memorial park or plaza that honors the commitments of veterans from so many eras, spanning World War II through present day.”
 
The estimated $1 million project will feature a brick circular plaza with a gold design in the middle along a paved pathway. An American flag displayed along with POW flags, as well as flags representing each branch of the United States military will be represented. Bronze sculptures representing periods of conflict from World War II to the present will be included. The plaza will be surrounded by walls on which those wanting to honor a veteran can have the veteran's name engraved for a small donation.  

“There is a longstanding tradition of honoring veterans in the United States of America,” Beisel says. “The Florida Veterans Memorial serves this tradition by continuing the city of Clearwater’s history of incorporating veteran’s memorials, started at the base of the Clearwater Memorial Causeway in the 1920s with the placement of E.M. Viquesney’s Spirit of the American Navy and Spirit of the American Doughboy into city infrastructure.”
 
There will be no fee to visit the memorial once it opens.  A portion of the memorial will open Memorial Day with a ribbon cutting.

Downtown Clearwater: development brings residential, restaurants, retail

Walk the streets of downtown Clearwater and you will see cranes in the air, traffic cones lining the streets and the feeling that a lot of change is coming to the neighborhood.
 
“The city and the community redevelopment agency’s (CRA) redevelopment strategy emphasizes the creation of a significant residential concentration in and around the downtown core to create and support a retail and recreation destination environment,” says Geraldine Lopez, Director of Economic Development and Housing for the city of Clearwater.
 
According to Lopez, there are currently two residential projects in the works. The Nolen, a $34 million mixed-use building that includes 257 apartments and approximately 10,000-square-feet of retail space, with construction expected to be completed this fall.
 
The other project is the Skyview. Like the Nolen, it is a mixed-use space, with 40 condos and 10,000-square-feet for shops. Construction on Skyview is expected by the end of the year.
 
In addition to the residential properties, downtown Clearwater is also experiencing a development boom in the way of restaurants.
 
“The downtown area is seeing a cluster of ethnic restaurants that is adding diversity to the food scene,” Lopez says. The restaurants include:
 
La Fondita de Leo
 
This establishment opened in the summer of 2015, and serves authentic Puerto Rican cuisine. Staples like mashed plantains, shredded chicken and corn fritters are offered, along with more savory options like stuffed chicken breast filled with cream cheese and bacon, the traditional mofongo dish and skirt steak. La Fondita de Leo is open for lunch and dinner.
 
Basil Fusion Bistro
 
With its opening at the end of 2015, Basil Fusion Bistro serves popular Vietnamese dishes. Open for breakfast and lunch only. Items on the menu include pho, spring rolls and smoothies.
 
Fuku Japanese Café
 
With its grand opening just before the New Year, Fuku looks forward to delighting customers with its sushi, ramen and yakisoba. The café is the brainchild of sushi chef Pla Sriwaree and his wife Aja Sriwaree, Fuku is a longtime dream of theirs that has come true. Fuku Japanese Café is open for lunch and dinner.
 
Lopez says that the combination of residential and commercial development is part of the overall vision the city has for the downtown area’s future.

“The city is striving for a vibrant, waterfront downtown destination with a mix of retail, restaurants, residential, office and recreational opportunities that attracts residents and visitors alike.”
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