New shops, new housing spur revitalization of downtown Clearwater

For years, Clearwater leaders, business owners and residents dreamed of a downtown renaissance that would revitalize the city’s urban core.

Now it’s finally starting to happen, says Michael Delk, the city’s planning and development director, as various pieces pull together and downtown activity increases. From new housing options to new restaurants and retailers bringing in foot traffic to economic development across several industries, especially the technology sector, “there’s a combination of things that are really starting to happen down here,” he adds. “There are a number of things happening in these key areas.”

The biggest piece of the puzzle is Imagine Clearwater, an ambitious plan to reactivate the city’s downtown waterfront and bluff, and to spur economic development downtown. Clearwater voters definitively approved the project when 75.76 percent voted Nov. 7 in favor of a referendum moving the project forward.

“The referendum was a resounding vote of confidence, I think, in the plan we put together with the community,” Delk says. “The City Council has been authorized to go forward with the plan and nobody could have been much happier.”

Work will begin soon with Stantec, a global design and engineering firm, to finalize details of the project. There will be some additional opportunities for public input and presentations on Imagine Clearwater’s progress before architects and contractors will be brought in to execute it, Delk says.

“There are still a lot of details to be sorted from a design standpoint.”

Even before the referendum passed, momentum was building downtown, he adds.

Engaging community using art

In September, the city opened Second Century Studios and the Bazaar Art Co-op at 331 Ceveland St. The city was actively seeking ways to bring more art downtown when the concept for Second Century was derived, says Laura Canary, community redevelopment coordinator with the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency. In addition to featuring artwork by Clearwater area artists, it also highlights the city’s major urban planning initiatives, including Imagine Clearwater, the North Marina Master Plan, Cleveland Streetscape Phase 3 and the Mercado/Public Plaza concept.

“[The space] serves a dual purpose by also engaging the public on our master planning initiatives,” Canary says. The city uses the monthly art exhibits to attract residents and visitors to the gallery space, she adds. “As beautiful as our renderings are, we’re realistic in knowing that, unfortunately, these things don’t normally draw in a crowd.”

Second Century serves as both “a hub where people can be connected” on city redevelopment efforts as well as an art gallery and community gathering space. Including the renderings of these projects in the gallery “connects the dots for a lot of people,” she adds.
Jennie Pearl, manager of both Second Century Studios and the Bazaar Art Co-op, says the space has already evolved significantly since its initial conception. Bazaar Art will host monthly exhibits and regular events -- art workshops, painting parties, demonstrations, guest speakers -- at the gallery. “There’s going to be a lot of variety,” she says. “It’s not going to be a stagnant space.”

Additionally, the group hosts events at other venues throughout the city, including Open Air Art Bazaars on the first Saturday of each month at Station Square Park and the third Saturday at Mandalay Park, and Art Throwdown competitions.

Pearl is also looking to collaborate with other businesses and organizations, such as the nearby Capitol Theatre and the Clearwater Public Library System. Bazaar artists will eventually host rooftop painting parties and workshops at the theater and the Clearwater Main Library. She also plans to piggyback on events at the Capitol Theatre in other ways, and will open Second Century’s doors for special events organized around the theater’s programming.

Through the Bazaar Art Co-op, she’ll build a comprehensive calendar of all art and community events in downtown Clearwater and beyond, she says. In addition to the Capitol Theatre and the library, she’ll also include events hosted by the Church of Scientology, the city, the Clearwater Aquarium and the Clearwater Downtown Partnership. 

“There are so many gears that are twisting in this area that have to do with events and art and community projects, but no space pulling that all together,” Pearl says. “This will be that space.”

Building on quality of life

Earlier this month, developers of The Nolen, the city’s first new multi-family housing development in downtown Clearwater in more than a decade, celebrated the grand opening of the five-building, four-story complex.

Sitting on seven acres adjacent to Prospect Lake, the development offers 257 high-end one- and two-bedroom apartments and amenities that include a walking trail along the lake, a fitness center and pool, a clubhouse, outdoor kitchen and a dog park. The multi-use development also includes street-level retail space facing Cleveland Street.

At the time of the Nov. 8 grand opening, Peter Collins, co-founder and managing principal of Forge Capital Partners, which developed the project, says just over 50 percent of the units had been turned over to the company by the general contractor. Of those units, about 70 percent of them were already leased. 

“We’re pleased with the leasing velocity,” he says.

The development has been years in the making, he adds. FCP initially responded to the city’s request for proposals for the property nearly five years ago. The development team was drawn to “the urban feel of the site,” he says. “It’s difficult to find significant acreage in downtown areas that you can build things on that wasn’t already occupied.”

The area was ripe for new housing, as well, he says. “Clearwater hadn’t had any new multi-family housing delivered downtown in a long time. We felt there would be pent-up demand for high-quality housing.”

He was also impressed by the city’s efforts to revitalize downtown and attract young professionals. City leaders focused on making Cleveland Street more pedestrian-friendly and beautifying the Prospect Lake area, he says.

More importantly, “they made a commitment to go after some of these industries, [especially the technology industry], and to promote Clearwater as a great place to do business. Those efforts seem to be paying off.”

According to a news release about The Nolen’s grand opening, Mayor George Cretekos says, “The Tampa Bay area is one of Florida’s largest and fastest growing tech hubs. The Nolen community is designed for tech workers who want to live downtown in close proximity to an area poised for revitalization and near Clearwater’s world-renown sugar sand beach and recreational activities. These opportunities and entertainment options put a spotlight on our area and on a quality of life that is unmatched by other metro areas of our size.”

Craft brewing, wine making coming soon

The city’s downtown area has also seen a flurry of new restaurants and retail outlets, including Clear Sky on Cleveland, a global bistro. The CRA, with the help of the Clearwater Downtown Partnership, is also reviewing applications for the city’s Anchor Tenant Incentive Program designed to draw restaurants, breweries, craft beer bars and wineries downtown. 

Jay Polglaze, executive director of the CDP, says they’re in talks with several entities well-known in the Tampa Bay region and are close to signing leases to bring them to downtown Clearwater.
In an interview with 83 Degrees in May, Polglaze said, “We want to create a great companion downtown to America’s number one beach. There’s a lot of great things going on in Clearwater. We’re getting a lot of movement right now. I really believe the beverage and food industry will be the spark plug that gets this thing going.”

Residents can expect to see even more growth and development downtown, Delk says. 

“There’s a heightened level of interest [in the area] that’s really increasing the amount of expectation and that is very good,” he adds. “I think people are starting to expect things to happen, to bring change downtown, and I think it’s justified and a building momentum.”
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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.