Clearwater CRA launches placemaking grant program to activate, beautify downtown spaces

The Clearwater Community Redevelopment is looking for some creative ideas to spruce up and energize underutilized spaces downtown and has a new grant program to help those ideas become reality.

The CRA placemaking grant provides up to $25,000 for projects that beautify and activate public spaces or engage the community.

“It’s about taking a place that you might normally walk by, it might be empty or it might not be that attractive, and transforming it,” says Eric Santiago, the public relations and programs manager for the CRA. “You might think of a better way to use that space. This was our way to put together a program to get people to share their ideas because we know there are a lot of creative people out there with good ideas. This was our way to establish that process. Hopefully, the more people start to learn about this program, the more we will start to see and hear what people want.”

The city has a total of $50,000 available for placemaking grants this fiscal year, which runs through the end of September. Santiago says city officials will then consider the future of the program after this first go-around. To be eligible, projects must be within the geographic boundaries of Clearwater’s downtown CRA district.

Placemaking is a broad term that generally involves a collaborative effort to take a public space such as a park, a plaza, a street or a vacant lot and enhance it to create an environment where people want to be.

“How are we taking the place as it currently is and changing it or improving it,” Santiago says. “These are not meant to be long-term enhancements. They are meant to be projects that are more easily implemented.”

The Clearwater CRA program focuses on three types of projects. There are beautification efforts such as public art, decorations or improvements to streets, alleys, vacant lots and other spaces. 

Activations may include cultural and performing arts programming, window and storefront displays, interactive and technological enhancements and the creation of small community gathering places such as parklets that extend sidewalks to create more space and amenities for people to use. 

Engagement programs include community-building activities and projects such as book clubs, community bicycle rides, yoga and other activites and community gardens.

Santiago points to a public art installation the CRA currently has downtown as a prime example of the type of placemaking project the city seeks. “The World Within,” by artist Todd MacIntire, is a sound installation along Gaslight Alley off Cleveland Street that broadcasts the sounds of the natural world captured during a day in the Everglades. The sound installation, which runs through June 15, transforms the tree and plant-lined walkway into an oasis from the hustle and bustle of downtown. 

“We had an artist with an interesting, creative idea but we didn’t have a way to work with him easily,” Santiago says. “This placemaking program tries to simplify that process. If we have people who have ideas but they’re not really sure how to bring them forward.”

Inside the CRA district, the grant program focuses on the Pinellas Trail, the 400 and 500 blocks of Cleveland Street, Prospect Lake Park and Station Square Park. Underutilized spaces, storefronts and vacant lots throughout the district are also priorities. Other areas “where a need for change can be demonstrated” are reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

The placemaking program also prioritizes projects that engage children or downtown employees or merge art and technology. Those projects are eligible to potentially receive grant funding to cover 100 percent of their costs, with the $25,000 cap. Projects led by neighborhood associations are also eligible to potentially get their full cost covered.

Property owners, tenants, organizations and individuals who are approved can receive up to 50 percent of their funding as seed money to get a project off the ground. Otherwise, the grant is paid as a reimbursement of costs. 

For more information and how to apply go to Downtown Clearwater Placemaking.

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Read more articles by Christopher Curry.

Chris Curry has been a writer for the 83 Degrees Media team since 2017. Chris also served as the development editor for a time before assuming the role of managing editor in May 2022. Chris lives in Clearwater. His professional career includes more than 15 years as a newspaper reporter, primarily in Ocala and Gainesville, before moving back home to the Tampa Bay Area. He enjoys the local music scene, the warm winters and Tampa Bay's abundance of outdoor festivals and events. When he's not working or spending time with family, he can frequently be found hoofing the trails at one of Pinellas County's nature parks.