In downtown Clearwater, long-sought bluff redevelopment moves closer to reality

In Clearwater, city officials are confident they at long last have the right development team and the right project to transform the downtown bluff overlooking Coachman Park and the waterfront and breath new life into the city’s urban core.

The City Council has selected a team led by New York’s Gotham Organization and The DeNunzio Group out of Palm Harbor to build a mixed-use project on two city-owned sites along Osceola Avenue: the old City Hall site and the site of the now-demolished Harborview Center.

On August 4, the City Council will have three key votes to move the project closer to reality: a developer’s agreement detailing the financial obligations and other responsibilities of the city and the developer, an agreement on the sale of the properties to the development team and a decision to place a referendum required by the city charter on the November ballot for Clearwater voters to decide whether to allow the sale of the city-owned properties on the bluff.

“This has been a long time coming,” says City Council member David Allbritton.

For decades, Clearwater officials past and present have sought to draw redevelopment interest to the bluff properties. A report the Urban Land Institute prepared for the city concluded it was a unique and unrealized opportunity to revitalize downtown.

“You have this beautiful waterfront bluff, you have not taken advantage of it,” Allbritton says the report concluded.

Last year, Clearwater entered negotiations with a Jupiter-based development team, but the two sides could not reach an agreement on the vision for the development.

Allbritton says the City Council feels the agreement going to a vote on August 4 is a “good compromise” with the current developers on financial and development obligations. He also feels the proposed project will fulfill the city’s vision of integrating the bluff redevelopment with the expanded and rebuilt Coachman Park now under construction as part of the Imagine Clearwater project.

Known as “The Bluffs,” the development includes a 13-story, 158-room hotel with 9,000 square feet of commercial space on the first and second floors on the Harborview site. The 13-story portion of the building with hotel rooms will be toward Osceola Avenue. Closer to Coachman Park, a sloped lawn would lead up to a second-floor rooftop beer garden.

The Harborview property would also have a smaller two-story building with 12,000 square feet of commercial space for retail, food and beverage and cultural uses, with a public plaza between the two buildings.

On the City Hall site, two 27-story residential towers with a total of 500 to 600 apartments are planned with 40,000 square feet of commercial space at the base of the towers and an urban pocket park facing Osceola Avenue.

The city wants to take advantage of the elevation of the bluff properties and have the developers build two parking garages totaling up to 769 spaces underground. City officials think that will allow the bluff properties to meet their full potential for development and public space and not have a parking garage obstructing the view of the waterfront. 

In the proposed development agreement, the city will contribute $22 million from its public parking revenues toward the construction of those underground garages. 

The development team, meanwhile, will pay $15.4 million for the City Hall property and $9.3 million for the Harborview property under the terms of the agreement.

Speaking at the July 21 City Council meeting, Director of Planning and Development Gina Clayton said that, after years of discussion and planning, this redevelopment project on the bluff could serve as a catalyst to revitalize downtown and bridge the gap that separates Coachman Park and the waterfront from the rest of downtown.
 

Read more articles by Christopher Curry.

Chris Curry is a freelance writer living in Clearwater. Chris spent more than 15 years as a newspaper reporter, primarily in Ocala and Gainesville, before moving back home to the Tampa Bay Area. He enjoys our local music scene, great weather, and Florida's wealth of outdoor festivals.