City of Clearwater prioritizes job creation along U.S. 19

The City of Clearwater continues to reach beyond its tourism-supported comfort zone. The city’s most traveled artery, U.S. 19. remains one of its biggest makeover projects, now with a renewed focus on job creation. 

Looking back, U.S. 19 through Pinellas County has seen its share of transformations. It has gone from a highway strip that threaded through woodlands and orange groves as recently as the 1970s to a business-crowded thoroughfare that spawned the bumper sticker “Pray for Me -- I drive on 19” during the '90s. Over the past two decades, the construction of flyovers, ramps, and different circulation patterns have improved traffic flow, but these benefits came with the side effect of reducing visibility for local businesses. 

The ensuing economic fallout inspired the city to propose The US 19 Corridor Redevelopment Plan in 2012. The forward-thinking document focused on parcels along the highway between Belleair Road and north of Curlew Road within one-half mile of the highway. The project garnered two awards from the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council. 

The plan also anticipated a rise in employment around 2016, but it didn’t anticipate the dip brought on by the current pandemic. The reality of today’s COVID-19 economy now underscores well-paying jobs as a key objective in fostering development along U.S. 19. 

Advocating for growth in Clearwater’s business and industrial sectors, Philip Kirkpatrick recently joined the city as its senior economic development coordinator. His focus: business recruitment and property development.

Through his new role with the city, the former commercial real estate developer manager, is striving toward attracting innovative industry and a thriving workforce. He says he envisions more residents and visiting commuters clocking in at companies occupying corporate and industrial spaces along U.S. 19. 

“In addition to increasing wages, you get an increasing demand for housing,” Kirkpatrick says. “When more people own real estate in the city, residents, the city, the county, the school district will all see a benefit from increasing property values. By that, I mean, increasing values more than the inflation rate with growth driven by better jobs brought into the city and attracting commuters from elsewhere in the [Tampa Bay] metro area to come to Clearwater to work.”

Kirkpatrick’s role includes familiarizing consultants and developers with the city’s recently implemented online relocation tool for commercial properties, which 83 Degrees Media reported when it launched. The city’s target users are investors, developers, brokers, land-use attorneys, etc. In tandem with these efforts, the tool will play an important role in gathering data and reports about the properties and surrounding areas with Clearwater-specific, U.S. 19 layers added to it.  

“The interactive tool is actually very, very powerful,” Kirkpatrick says. “I am really impressed with what they put together. It can answer much of what a consultant needs to know immediately. It has links to demographics, zoning, and property appraiser details.”

While it’s too soon to tell if redevelopment has accelerated as a result of digital assistance, Kirkpatrick remains optimistic even amid the current pandemic. He says the project has moved forward with a “remarkable forward-looking step”: a form-based zoning code, permitting a larger variety of uses. Among those would include light assembly -- industrial businesses with minimal impacts on the environment. 

In the meantime, Kirpatrick’s job also involves dispelling misconceptions about the ecological impact of commercial redevelopment. He asserts that commercial facilities -- though less glamorous -- often leave a smaller carbon footprint than multi-family residences.

“The default position of people who are environmentally sensitive is to think that you put asphalt down, you destroy the environment,” he says. “In contrast to a neighborhood golf course, you actually put a cap on the soil so water no longer percolates through, and with it all the fertilizer and pesticides in those areas. … A flex industrial park would not have a negative environmental impact.”   

Most surprising is the lack of evidence for negative and significant impacts of commercial developments on housing values, says Jonathan A. Wiley, Ph.D., who recently authored a report on the impact of commercial land use.

Kirkpatrick added that re-envisioning existing retail centers will contribute to U.S. 19’s ongoing facelift and possibly make the tract more enticing to businesses. He cited Westfield Countryside Mall as an example. The addition of a movie theater and chain restaurants, as well as Whole Foods, has helped anchor the smaller retail spaces, he says.

“I think, redevelopment of one or more of these larger shopping centers into either a large scale office building or some other types of commercial use would provide substantial employment at good pay rates,” Kirkpatrick says. “It's a logical progression.” 

How to connect with Clearwater Economic Development
  1. Visit the city's website
  2. Call (727) 562-4054
  3. Join their LinkedIn Group
  4. Schedule a consultation
  5. Email Philip Kirkpatrick
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Read more articles by Julie Garisto.

A graduate of Largo High, USF, and the University of Tampa's Creative Writing MFA program, Julie Garisto grew up in Clearwater and now has a home in the Ocala National Forest. Between writing assignments, she's teaching English courses at Saint Leo University and other colleges. Julie has written arts features in Creative Pinellas' online magazine ArtsCoast Journal, Creative Loafing, Florida travel pieces  (Visit Tampa Bay and Visit Jacksonville), the Cade Museum, and features and reviews in the Tampa Bay Times. Her previous journalistic roles include arts and entertainment editor for Creative Loafing, staff writer for the Tampa Bay Times, and copy editor for the Weekly Planet. Lately, she's been obsessed with exploring Florida's State Parks, small towns, and natural springs.