Redesign of Clearwater waterfront promises to enhance appeal, spur investments

Consultants unveiled ambitious plans to reactivate Clearwater’s downtown waterfront and bluff, and spur economic development at a pair of public presentations Nov. 29 and 30.

Michael Delk, the city’s planning and development director, says the project, Imagine Clearwater, “is a game-changer” for the community. Plans call for the city to follow in the footsteps of nearby Tampa and St. Petersburg by shifting its focus to its local waterfront as a way to reinvigorate the downtown economy. Clearwater’s waterfront area, which includes around 50 acres, runs from Drew Street north to Court Street and from the waterfront west to Osceola Avenue. 

“Historically, there was a period of time where cities almost had their backs to their waterfronts,” Delk says. “Now we want to activate and interact with our waterfront. It’s been a natural progression for us, and Clearwater needs a better connection with its waterfront. We have one of the most beautiful, spectacular waterfronts in the region, but we don’t take as much advantage of that as we should. This plan really connects downtown with the waterfront, and it should improve the economics of downtown.”

Seth Taylor, the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency director, says the plan’s strengths lie in “its balance and its ability to satisfy the desires of different interests.”

The project’s consultants, New York City-based HR&A Advisors, which specializes in urban development, and Sasaki Associates, an international architecture firm, received feedback from residents at seven community workshops before creating the draft master plan for a waterfront park. 

What stood out during these workshops, Taylor says, were two groups with very different needs: one interested in green, open spaces that “energize and attract nature,” the other more focused on programming offered at the space. The plan appeals to the sensibilities of both sides, he says, “strik[ing] a very nice balance between the two.”

During the Nov. 30 presentation at the city’s Downtown Main Library, Cary Hirschstein, a partner at HR&A, said the consulting group strove to create a plan “that was authentic and reflective of Clearwater and its people, and unique to other regional waterfronts.”

This means “celebrat[ing] [the waterfront’s] natural beauty” while connecting it to downtown Clearwater. “It’s about making sure the waterfront and downtown, which feel like two separate parts, begin to function as a whole,” he says.

Creating lush, green spaces

The waterfront park portion of the project calls for lush, green spaces with a playground, trails, picnic areas, space for public events and gardens. It will consist of three unique spaces: The Cove, an eco park with marsh gardens and a multi-use trail; The Green, a great open lawn space for large-scale events; and The Garden, which includes Coachman Park, a shorefront space that today hosts numerous popular events, such as Jazz Holiday, throughout the year. The new plan provides Coachman Park with “a more naturalistic, park-like setting without the heavy wear and tear of today,” says Martin Zogran, Principal and Urban Designer with Sasaki. 

The revitalization plan also relies heavily on what Hirschstein calls the park’s “active edges,” particularly Osceola Avenue, which runs along the bluff, and, he says, “is an important key here. It knits the area together physically.” He adds, “Like a great painting, you have the canvas, but you have to think about its frame.”

The plan will transform the intersection of Osceola and Cleveland Street into a gateway to the park, “a 100 percent corner, a really important corner where you want activity on all four points,” Hirchstein says.

The Capitol Theatre, The SkyView condo tower and the Harborview Center are all currently located at this intersection. The Imagine Clearwater plan calls for the city-owned Harborview, which blocks waterfront views from the intersection, to be demolished and replaced with an entry plaza to the park. “The future is very bright for that intersection,” Taylor says.

Active edges invite people to live, work, play

The city should also encourage retailers and other potential developments, particularly residential projects, in the area, Hirchstein says. The active edges “create some really great retail opportunities.” He points to a number of parking lots and vacant parcels on Osceola Avenue that could be better utilized. “I feel these sites should be contributing,” he says. “They should help the renaissance of downtown. They should be active. They should be supporting the tax base downtown.”

The park and these active edges should complement each other, he adds. New development along the edges “bring people [downtown] to live, to shop, to eat, and that brings eyes on the park,” he says. “It increases the feeling of safety and activity, which are essential to a city park.”

Down the road, the plan calls for Clearwater to relocate City Hall and sell the property where it is currently located to a developer. “It’s a very large site with a lot of potential,” Hirchstein says. Not only could this bring a new mixed-use development to the waterfront, but “building a new City Hall will also be a catalyst to revitalize a part of downtown that might be a little quieter.”

Consultants have divvied the plan into two phases. Phase I would focus on all aspects of the plan north of Cleveland Street, while Phase II focuses on those south of the thoroughfare, particularly the sale and relocation of City Hall, Taylor says.

He says the consultants will return to Clearwater to present their plan to the City Council early next year. Council will need to approve to the plan before it goes to the residents for a referendum vote.

Taylor says he’s confident the Imagine Clearwater plan will have “widespread support” and pass a referendum vote. He adds, “It’s a bold plan. It’s an ambitious plan. But also one grounded in reality.”
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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.