As the two largest Tampa Bay Area cities of Tampa and St. Petersburg continue growing with massive new legacy projects such as Tampa’s Water Street District and the New St. Pete Pier, leaders in the region’s third-largest city, Clearwater, are building a strategic vision designed to shape their future.
Long regarded by many locals as a relatively quiet beach town, Clearwater has been parlaying its reputation as a destination for sunshine and sand into one highlighting opportunities for new businesses and job creation of all sizes. Clearwater officials convincingly make this case in Invest: Tampa Bay 2020, an annual report that examines the growth and vitality of the local economy.
As Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard remarked in the socioeconomic recap of the region, his city in Pinellas County has two major challenges: aging housing and the need for more efficient transportation.
“We do not have the capacity to add lanes in Clearwater, so we have to work on mass transit and making our roads more efficient at moving traffic.” He identified the transportation issue as a regional challenge and one that can be met in Clearwater by better timing of traffic signals, ride-sharing, and introducing alternatives modes of transportation as well as creating higher-density zoning near mass-transit hubs.
He also spells out the remedy for revitalizing older homes in the city, where the average age of homes is around 41 years old and the newest community, Countryside, was largely built out by the early 1980s.
“We need to see families moving into the city and make investments to rejuvenate our housing. This is not an easy task, but with the right environment it can happen.” Mayor Hibbard sees the answer for this by way of improving schools, furthering police protection, calming traffic in neighborhoods, ensuring a good quality of life, and keeping the city an affordable place to live.
Capital improvement projects remain vital to Clearwater’s growth and are largely funded by the Penny for Pinellas, a 1% sales tax increase that originally went into effect in 1990, and has been extended three times since. Both residents of the city and the region’s countless visitors are the beneficiaries of the many projects funded by the tax, including roads, bridges, environmental preservation, new parks, and the creation of or upgrades to other public amenities.
Continued investments in healthcare and higher education are also helping the city diversify its largely tourist-centric economy.
BayCare Health System is the city’s largest single employer, while Nova Southeastern University opened its new $200-million, 311,000-square-foot Tampa Bay Regional Campus in Clearwater in September 2019. Clearwater-based KnowBe4, a company involved with training for security awareness and phishing, reached a valuation of $1 billion, and cybersecurity giant (ISC)2 is planning the construction of a video production studio at its Clearwater headquarters.
In downtown Clearwater, a dynamic project aimed at opening the city’s downtown waterfront to new multi-use development through public funds and private investments is underway. Imagine Clearwater will integrate alternative modes of transportation and enhance walkability while orchestrating the redevelopment of the former Harborview Center and city hall sites, enhancements to the Cleveland Street corridor, the creation of a new city gateway, and improvements to nearby parks and entertainment venues.
To find out more about Clearwater’s recent growth and the future vision for the city, check out Invest: Tampa Bay 2020 – An In-Depth Review of the Key Issues Facing the Cities of Tampa, St. Petersburg, and Clearwater Featuring the Exclusive Insights of Prominent Industry Leaders.
Funding for this story was provided by the City of Clearwater Department of Economic Development.