What's next for downtown Clearwater? Breweries, restaurants, shops add to urban sceneCraft Beer and Music Fest, Saturday, May 19

With Clearwater on the cusp of what city leaders hope will be a downtown renaissance, breweries stand to play a large role in this transformation.

“The concept of bringing the craft beer industry downtown is not new,” says Jay Polglaze, executive director of the Clearwater Downtown Partnership. “It’s an important part of the revitalization of downtowns across America.”

Through the city’s Anchor Tenant Initiative Program, which launched a year ago, it has targeted restaurants and breweries in an attempt to woo them downtown. This financial incentive program provides loan-to-grant funding up to $250,000 to selected commercial tenants.

Now, the city is close to signing leases with two breweries. Spring Hill’s Inoculum Ale Works, which is Florida’s first full production sour-only brewery, plans to expand south into Pinellas County and is eyeing downtown Clearwater. Meanwhile, Dunedin House of Beer, with additional franchise locations in Palm Harbor and Gainesville, is working with the city to find the right space for its operations, which could range from a 5,000-square-foot bar with a full kitchen to a smaller outfit with bar food. Polglaze expects these breweries to sign leases downtown by the end of the summer.

Andy Polce, owner of HOB, says, “We see a lot of potential in downtown Clearwater. There are a lot of challenges, but the anchor tenant program is probably a way to address those challenges.” He adds that HOB “came close to signing a lease” with the city about eight months ago.
 
But when then-Community Redevelopment Agency director Seth Taylor resigned last October, negotiations came to a halt while the city searched for his replacement, Polglaze says. At the time, they had a handful of breweries seriously considering opening in or expanding to downtown Clearwater, he adds. This was whittled down from nearly 100 inquiries they received when the anchor tenant initiative was announced.

Even before this setback, it’s been a long battle to bring craft beer to downtown Clearwater. While nearby cities, including Tampa and St. Pete, enjoy the economic benefits of being home to various microbreweries, Clearwater was missing out because of city zoning rules that prohibited the manufacture and distribution of craft beer downtown, Polglaze says. Then, a little over two years ago, while he was still sitting on city council, councilors modified this law to pave the way for breweries to open downtown.

“Council changing the code was important,” he says. “That part of the formula has been done for a while.”

Last year, the city hosted its first Craft Beer and Music Fest, drawing around 7,000 craft beer drinkers downtown, Polglaze says. “This just shows that there’s a market for it in Clearwater.”

This year’s event, presented by HOB, CDP, CRA and the Clearwater Downtown Development Board is set for Saturday, May 19.

The anchor tenant program is the impetus needed to finally draw craft breweries downtown, he adds. As companies downtown grow and more housing options come to market, “there needs to be something for all these people to do,” he says.
 
Earlier this year, the CRA hired Amanda Thompson to replace Taylor. Conversations between the city and interested breweries have resumed in recent weeks, Polglaze says.

Thompson says she’s excited to move these negotiations forward. “I think that people love local independent high quality food concepts, especially craft breweries,” she says. “They do such a good job of representing the local culture.”

There are a number of other “exciting projects,” mainly eateries and bars, coming down the pipeline for downtown Clearwater, Polglaze says. Black Brick Tavern + Kitchen, a brewpub, is close to opening, while an Indian restaurant with other locations in the Tampa Bay region will likely sign a lease downtown soon, he says. An arcade bar is also in the works for the area.

Meanwhile, Pour Yours, a wine bar with automated dispensing machines, recently held its soft opening. The bar is a joint project between two familiar faces downtown -- Lina Teixeira, the designer behind Studio 617, and Leo Caicedo, owner of La Fondita restaurant. Both sit on a variety of local boards, and Teixeira says she opened the wine bar because she “wants to put [her] money where [her] mouth is.” She adds, “I want to help revitalize downtown.”

She says, “I feel like this is a critical time downtown and we want to keep forging ahead, not move backwards. I want to be a catalyst. I want to add to what’s downtown. There’s nothing there like this.”

The CRA will also reevaluate the anchor tenant program so that it includes projects other than restaurants and breweries. “There is no silver bullet concept,” Thompson says. “We want to hear everybody’s ideas and bring in owners that are ready to invest downtown.”

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Read more articles by Tiffany Razzano.

Tiffany Razano is a Pinellas County-based writer and editor covering the City of Clearwater and other news and features in the Tampa Bay region for 83 Degrees.
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